Although injuries and illness plagued the Fort Hays State University wrestling team early this season, Saturday’s annual Bob Smith Open saw the Tigers finish with two first-place finishers – the only Division II team on the bracket to accomplish this feat.
In the 353-wrestler tournament, the Tigers faced powerhouses such as Division I Oklahoma State University and Division II University of Nebraska-Omaha. Still, 165-pound senior Blake Malloy and 141-pound junior Andre Harrison finished the day 5-0 consecutively.
“I’m very pleased with how the guys did and with Blake and Andre,” Coach Chas Thompson said. “We didn’t wrestle the best as a team so it’s a good thing we’re not even halfway through the season so we can go back in to work on some things.”
Although the Tigers struggled to gain a foothold in their individual matches, they looked sound overall.
“The guys looked solid. We just need to work on bottom and getting out from underneath,” said Thompson. “But, we’ll have time to change some of the things we need to work on before the next tournament.”
Malloy, the No. 1 seed, began the day with a fall against John Judy of the University of Kansas team followed by three tight decisions to reach the finals. In the finals, Malloy faced No. 2 seed, Bekzod Abdurakhmanov of Colby Community College and won by a 6-4 decision. Abdurakhmanov is the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class for the junior college level.
“I felt that I got my offensive going and that it was good for me to get some victories, because I was lacking some in Omaha,” Malloy said. “It was good to go out and get some victories over those guys.”
The tournament gave Malloy a look at areas that he feels he needs to work on.
“I need to work on my third period aggressiveness,” said Malloy. “I felt like I eased off too much and that’s something I need to work on more.”
Harrison, the No. 3 seed in his weight class, faced a tough bracket. However, Harrison set the stage for the rest of the tournament by winning his first match by a technical fall. He won his next three matches by decisions, then faced #1 seed Mario Morgan of the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the finals. Harrison won his final match by a 4-3 decision.
“He was a little stronger than I expected,” Harrison said of Morgan. “Hopefully I can repeat that performance again in March – with the same outcome.”
Other Tiger wrestlers faced strong competitors throughout the tournament. Although they did not place, the Tigers also featured sophomore Dustin Dooley, sophomore Travis Kuhn, senior Levi Younkin, junior Cody Gillespie, senior Tyler Gonzales, junior Chance Rencountre, junior Carl Wilkinson and sophomore Justin Glenn.
The Tigers will travel to Kearney, Neb. for their next tournament Saturday where they will have a chance to capitalize on their strengths before NWCA Division II National Duals in Ceder Falls, Iowa.