Tigers' A.J Cooper locks up trip to nationals

FHSU Sports Information
Fort Hays State's A.J. Cooper is headed to the NCAA Division II National Championships.

EDMOND, Okla. - The No. 15 Fort Hays State wrestling team saw four Tigers place in the top four of their respective weight class at the 2021 NCAA Division II Super Region IV Championships Sunday (Feb. 28). Senior A.J. Cooper placed second in the 285-pound division, locking up a trip to compete at the 2021 NCAA Division II National Championships in St. Louis, Mo. March 12-13.

Anthony Scantlin (157 pounds) and Tereus Henry (197 pound) both placed third and are in the mix for a trip to nationals, pending a coaches vote on the five "wild card" selections. Marty Verhaeghe was the final placer for the Tigers, finishing in fourth at 174 pounds.

Due to reduced field sizes in all NCAA Championship events this postseason, Super Region IV was assigned 25 qualifying spots for the national championships. Typically, the top three wrestlers at each weight class advance to compete at the NCAA Championships, however this year saw only two finalists from each weight class earn a guaranteed trip to St. Louis. The remaining five spots will go to five of the third-place finishers and will be voted on by the 10 coaches in the region. Official selections for the national championships will be announced early this week.

After coming up once placement short in last year's regionals, eighth-ranked Cooper avenged himself by earning his spot at the national tournament with a second-place finish in 2021. Cooper started his day in the quarterfinals, grinding out back-to-back decisions to reach the finals. Though the senior from Cimarron came up on the losing end of a 9-4 decision in the championship bout, he clinched second place due to his earlier win over Ian Keuhl of McKendree. Cooper finished his day 2-1 and scored 10 team points for the Tigers.

Anthony Scantlin started out fast in the 157-pound weight class. After pinning Central Missouri's John Riddle in the third period of the quarterfinal bout, Scantlin followed that up with another victory by fall. Scantlin pinned Newman's Kendall Frame early in the second period, securing a spot in the championship match.

Unfortunately his momentum came to an end there, with Scantlin falling to Ty Lucas of Central Oklahoma in that bout by a 5-2 decision. Scantlin then came up just short in a true-second match against Lindenwood's Ronald Gentile, 3-2. Due to the top two wrestlers getting a guaranteed spot in the national championships, this year the second place finisher had to wrestle the third place finisher if they hadn't wrestled earlier in the day. Scantlin concluded the day with a team-high 11 team points and a 2-2 record.

Tereus Henry had a strong regional performance in his first chance at postseason action. Henry didn't wrestle until the semifinal round after advancing through the quarterfinals on an injury default. The redshirt-freshman dropped his first match of the day, falling victim to a late pin against Dalton Abney of Central Oklahoma, forcing Henry to work through the consolation side of the bracket.

Henry reached the third-place match with a 10-7 win in the consolation semifinals before securing third place by pinning Newman's Ivan Balavage late in the third period. The redshirt freshman ended his day placing third in the 197-pound division, going 3-1 and scoring 10.5 points for Fort Hays State.

Representing the Tigers in the 174-pound weight class, Marty Verhaeghe started his journey strong with a tech fall victory (17-1) in round one followed by a major decision victory (13-5) in the quarterfinals. After falling in the semifinal bout, Verhaeghe wrestled through the consolation side and earned himself a spot in the third-place matchup after another bonus-point win. Verhaeghe fought hard, but was unable to overcome Central Oklahoma's Wyatt Jordan, falling 8-2. Marty placed fourth for the Tigers in the 174-pound class and scored nine team points after a 3-2 day.

No. 1 Mason Turner cruised through the first two rounds, winning via tech fall (16-1) in round one and major decision (18-6) in the quarterfinals. Turner ended up on the wrong end of an 8-2 decision in the semifinal bout before suffering a fall in the consolation semifinal. The sophomore turned in a 2-2 record on the afternoon and brought in 4.5 points for the Tigers.

Cody Hicks began his 165-pound tournament with an early second period fall over Thomas Karlo of Kentucky Wesleyan. After being defeated by an 8-3 decision in the quarterfinals, Hicks responded with a close 9-8 decision victory over Drury's Will Kuster in round three of the consolation bracket. Hicks eventually fell in the consolation semifinals via pin, ending his regional performance at 2-2 and giving the Tigers four team points.

Clint Herrick fought hard in the 184-pound division, battling for a close 2-1 decision victory in round three of the consolation bracket before ended his day in the consolation semifinals. Herrick scored one team point for the Tigers.

Cole Zebley was unable to come away with a victory in the difficult 149-pound division. Zebley fell by decision in both round one, 8-2, and round two of the consolation bracket, 2-1.

Broderick Green dropped both his matches by decision, including 8-2 in the quarterfinals and 6-3 in round three of the consolations.

The Tigers await the coaches' votes in the wild card selection of third-place finishers to see if either will join A.J. Cooper in St. Louis for the National Championships beginning Friday, March 12.