BY JESS KIRCHHOFF
PHOTOS BY JESS KIRCHHOFF & RYAN PRICKETT
On Saturday, February 26, the Fort Hays State wrestling team traveled to Grand Junction, CO to compete in the Super Region VI Championships. There, three members of the team qualified for the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, MO.
Marty Verhaeghe (184), Tereus Henry (197), and A.J. Cooper (285) will be representing FHSU at the championship.
Verhaeghe and Henry are both new competitors to the NCAA Championship tournament. Henry, 27-10 on the year, has seen a sliver of what to expect for the fast-approaching weekend.
“Have I been to Nationals before? Yes and no,” he said. “My freshman year I was taken as a training partner for one of the other qualifiers, but that was when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading wildly and everything started getting shut down so ultimately, the tournament ended up being canceled.”
Henry has been preparing for the tournament in a variety of ways.
“I have been focusing on the areas where I’m not the best at during practice as well as perfecting in the places where I am the best at, as well as lifting and throwing in some extra workouts,” he said.
When asked about his level of nerves going into the weekend, he seemed confident, but knew there would be different feelings as it drew closer.
“Right now, no. I’m more excited than nervous, but I know as it gets closer to next weekend and on the day of I will be a nervous wreck,” Henry said.
Henry sees every competitor as a threat and understands that each contestant fought to get to where they are.
“Every person I toe the line with is another challenger,” he said. “I’m preparing for and expecting tough matches with guys giving everything they’ve got.”
Although he knows this won’t be an easy tournament, he extends his thanks to his coaches for properly preparing him for this moment.
“I would specifically like to thank our entire coaching staff,” Henry said. “Don’t get me wrong I’m grateful for everybody that’s supporting me, but the coaches always push me to believe in myself and to see more potential in myself than I ever do.”
From the opposite point of view, Cooper is no new face to the NCAA Championships. Cooper traveled to St. Louis for the 2020-2021 season. There, he took advantage and was able to capture a fifth-place finish to achieve All-American status in the 285 weight class.
Although this is his greatest achievement, his most prized attainment is how he is viewed within his hometown and surrounding communities.
“My biggest accomplishment has been being a role model for young kids and high schoolers in western Kansas,” Cooper said.
Similarly, as the senior’s final weeks of wrestling come to a close, he wants to thank everyone that has helped, encouraged, or supported him throughout his career.
“I’m thankful for every coach I’ve had throughout my career,” he said. “Not just wrestling coaches either. Every coach I’ve ever had has helped me become a better athlete and overall person.”
In preparation for this weekend, Cooper has kept his normal routine in exchange for overly flashy measures.
“I will continue to stick to just doing the same things I’ve done all year. I will work hard and we’ll see where that hard work gets me.”
“He’s also not excessively nervous for the event.
“No, I’m not really nervous, in my mind, it’s just another tournament and I’m not looking to psych myself out by thinking otherwise and putting it on a pedestal.”
His only worry for the season has been bettering himself and that will not be changing in regards to this weekend.
“My biggest competition is always myself. It’s important to be better than you were the day before.”
The tournament will begin at 11 a.m. on Friday inside Cahifetz Arena and continue at 10 a.m. on Saturday.