Season-long preparation propels five FHSU wrestlers to nationals this weekend

BY BRADEN HOLECEK
PHOTOS BY ALLIE SCHWEIZER

FHSU’s wrestling team has hopes of bringing more hardware to Hays after qualifying five athletes for the national meet in Sioux Falls. In what has been an exciting year, the squad has helped keep Fort Hays State on the map and there is hope to continue building a foundation.

Mason Turner, Brandon Ball, Marty Verhaeghe, Aryus Jones, and Jordan Davis all punched their tickets on March 1 at the Super Region 4 Championships held inside Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Each of these wrestlers has a different view of what it takes to accomplish what they have done this season.

“Working on the things that I wasn’t good at, and pushing through my goals has led to success,” Turner said.”Having the goal of majoring 75 percent of my opponents, and accomplishing that goal has helped lead to the dominant season so far.”

Qualifying for nationals took months of preparation, which Turner said was just as mentally tough as it was physical.

“It’s a lot of strict dieting, getting up early morning just to get to weights, the grueling practices and also understanding that you are not always going to feel 100 percent,” he said. “But, it takes a lot of mental toughness to get through all of that.”

Each wrestler also feels differently about their potential weight class and their opponents. For Turner, he knew the work was not going to be easy, in order to make it to Nationals.

“My coaches believed in me. They thought it was in my best interest to go from the 133-pound class back to 125,” Turner said. “ I had a lot of support behind that. I went back down to 125 and just showed out and worked my tail off.”

Meanwhile, for standout Brandon Ball, his focus was to prepare himself in a lot of different ways for this season. Ball focused more on group strength and swimming while also striving to achieve all “A’s” in the classroom. 

As far as viewing his weight class, Ball does not take as much into account. His focus is on the main goal.

“I try to stay away from looking at others because if I do, I start overthinking a little bit,” Ball said. “If I just put in the work and give my best effort, it usually works out for me.”

In his time at FHSU, Ball has learned that striving to improve every day, even if just a little, is important. 

“Just getting one percent better every day. It may sound like nothing, but in all reality, if you can do that every day you’re doing really well,” Ball said.

Aryus Jones feels like he grew throughout the season and really made some strides, especially after making an adjustment in his weight class. 

“I moved from 174 to 184 and I think at the beginning of the year I was a little timid. I took a lot of lumps, and it really took me a while to adjust. But now, I feel a lot more comfortable than I have been,” Jones said. 

His preparation is similar to that of the aforementioned Turner. Though, he knows there is a lot of different outlooks.

“Your diet has to be monitored all year long, even in preseason. I think taking care of your body and knowing to go to the trainer every day, or getting whatever you need is important,” Jones said. “Lastly, you want to make sure you are in the best shape you can be. You don’t want to be losing matches because you’re tired.”

Head Coach Chas Thompson said he was really proud of his guys this season. Every year is different according to Thompson. yet this season, it was an important one for the team and Fort Hays State University.

At Regionals, the Tigers had their most National qualifiers since 2014 with five. It was also their highest point finish as a team since 2014.

“We peaked at the right time. Our guys were ready, our guys were confident,” Thompson said. 

Thompson added that he went a different way about things this season as well.

“I’ve changed a few things up this year, just as far as how we train and what we’re doing,” Thompson said. “Most people think you should push the body and work hard, hard, hard.”

Coaching wrestling is certainly different than other sports. Thompson says it is much more of a one on one sport.

“So you have ten individuals, ten different personalities. So, you’re out there by yourself. In the team sports, you can kind of blend in,” Thompson said. “But when you get your butt kicked out on the mat, everyone knows who won and who lost. You get the most satisfaction out of the hard work, and actually getting your hand raised.”

Thompson said a number of factors went into this season’s success, but cited the leadership of two of his qualifiers as a driving force behind qualifying five for nationals. 

“We get along really good. We have a really good leader in Brandon Ball. Marty Verhaeaghe is also a leader in his work ethic. They mesh together really well and they’re like brothers,” Thompson said.

As for the team having their most national qualifiers since 2014, Thompson said it was a long time coming.

“It was overdue,” he said. “The sport of wrestling is tough. You never know how many wrestlers you’re going to get through. We were super close to getting a sixth or seventh through.”

Seeding expectations also differed from the eventual outcomes for some of the qualifiers for Fort Hays.

“At Regionals, we were the team upsetting people,” Thompson said. “I had a six seed in Mason Turner upset a two seed and a three seed. We had another six seed upset a three seed. And then Verhaeghe beat one of the top guys in the country.”

As a whole, Thompson loved the support at Regionals, as well as the energy.

“The support was tremendous and it was a big part of us. I want to thank everyone that came out that Sunday,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, we come back with some hardware or a National title. And we just want to shed some good light on Fort Hays, Kansas and get us some good publicity.”

Coach Thompson will lead Turner, Ball, Jones, Davis and Verhaeaghe into Nationals this weekend. The matches will take place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on March 13th and 14th.

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