Tigers' Cooper earns All-American honors with fifth-place finish

FHSU Sports Information
FHSU wrestler A.J. Cooper, middle, placed fifth at the Division II national tournament.

ST. LOUIS — Fort Hays State senior wrestler A.J. Cooper earned All-American status after placing fifth in the 285-pound bracket of the 2021 NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships. The Cimarron native posted a 2-2 record in the tournament, including a 1-2 on Saturday to finish the year at 13-4 overall.

Cooper, the No. 5 seed in the 285-pound tournament, opened the day in the national semifinals against top-seeded Kameron Teacher of St. Cloud State. Teacher took control early, recording a pair of takedowns in the first round to lead 4-2 after three minutes. The eventual national champion added another takedown in the second period, leading 6-3 going into the final period. Cooper took several shots but could not convert, giving up an escape and a ride time point that led to an 8-3 decision in favor of Teacher.

After moving into the consolation bracket, Cooper was matched up with sixth-seeded Lee Herrington of Nebraska-Kearney. The Loper jumped in front with first-period takedown before Cooper escaped just seconds before the end of the period. Cooper was in a bit of a precarious position in the second period as Herrington had a hold of Cooper's leg. But Cooper got out of trouble with his patented flip move. Cooper tied the score at 2-2 with a quick escape in the third period, but with Herrington holding more than one minute of ride time, there was still work to be done.

The pair went back and forth before Herrington ultimately scored another takedown with less than a minute to go. Cooper wiggled free with 24 seconds left before incredibly taking the lead with a last-second lunge, catching Harrington off balance for a takedown. The match seemed destined for overtime with Cooper leading 5-4 and a ride time point looming, but Herrington was able to roll on top and take control for a reversal just before the horn rang out, giving the Loper a 7-5 decision.

Cooper then moved to the 5th-place match, where he drew Tristen Weirich of Ashland. Cooper went on top in the first period with a takedown at the 1:26 mark before holding on for the remainder of the period. After choosing the bottom position, Cooper quickly escaped in the second period and later managed another takedown to log 34 more seconds of riding time. Cooper started the final period on top and managed to hold on for the full two minutes, tacking on two near-fall points midway through the period to give the senior an 8-0 major decision.

Cooper earned 10 team points in the tournament, singlehandedly giving Fort Hays State a 26th-place finish on the team list out of 44 schools represented. FHSU finished higher than nine schools that had multiple qualifiers.

The Tigers have now had at least one All-American wrestler in each of the last eight seasons.