Former high school rivals helping Mesa State at RMAC wrestling championships

Mesa State wrestles Cole Johnson, shown here, and Andy Laiminger are preparing for the NCAA West Regional/RMAC Championship in Alamosa this Saturday. In high school, Johnson wrestled for Hotchkiss and Laiminger for nearby Paonia.


RMAC Wrestling Championships

When: Saturday at Adams State College, Alamosa

Notes: Eleven teams compete for the team title as individuals attempt to qualify for the NCAA Division II Championships in two weeks in Omaha, Neb. Six of the 11 teams are ranked in the top 20 in the nation — No.7 Nebraska-Kearney, No. 11 Western State, No. 14 Fort Hays State (Kan.), No. 15 Adams State, No. 18 San Francisco State (Calif.) and No. 20 Grand Canyon (Ariz.). There are 20 nationally ranked individuals in the tournament, including three each at 125, 141 and 157 pounds.

“It’s tough,” Mesa State coach Chuck Pipher said. “I wouldn’t say any of our guys can be counted out or any of us are shoo-ins (to qualify for nationals). Everybody’s got to work hard to get in, even Chase Walker, who’s an All-American. I’d love to say we’ll get five, but if we don’t go wrestle, we might not have any (qualify).”

Six of the 10 Mesa wrestlers will be competing in regionals for the first time. The four veterans are Walker, Cole Johnson, Andy Laiminger and Trevor Stapp.

They were bitter rivals in high school.

Now, Mesa State College seniors Cole Johnson and Andy Laiminger are close friends and teammates hoping to qualify for the NCAA Division II National Wrestling Championships in their final season.

To do that, they will have to place in the top four at the NCAA West Regional/RMAC Championship on Saturday at Adams State College in Alamosa. The tournament begins at 9 a.m., with finals at 7 p.m.

“They’ve been around since the reinstatement of the program (in 2006),” Mesa State coach Chuck Pipher said. “I’d like to see them finish out strong. They’ve been through it all.

“They’ve showed a lot of character to stick around all four years. One year, we were (practicing) in three different rooms, but we knew it would be better.”

Johnson and Laiminger have been through more than building a wrestling program.

They were rivals back in high school when Johnson wrestled for Hotchkiss and Laiminger wrestled for Paonia.

Johnson followed Pipher, who coached Hotchkiss, to Mesa State and Laiminger, who wrestled for Pipher’s brother, Andy, came along.

“We didn’t see eye to eye in high school,” Laiminger said. “Our freshman year, we had no choice but to get along.”

Laiminger and Johnson grew to be friends and shared an off-campus apartment for a couple of years.

“We have a lot in common,” Laiminger said. “We hang out all the time and eat dinner together. We both like cars and to shoot guns.”

They developed a friendship that helped them get through the first few years of rebuilding a once-proud program that was dropped in 1991.

“We’ve become pretty much best friends,” Johnson said. “If I’m stranded in the middle of the night, I know who to call.

“Without each other, I couldn’t make it alone. We’ve finally got a base established to help these guys stay up.”

They are the only two remaining from the program’s first year.

This season, though, has been challenging in another sense.

Johnson (5-7) was injured the first weekend of the season but returned by the first of January to wrestle in the Midwest Classic. The next weekend, he injured an elbow and sat out three weeks. He sat out last week to rest for regionals.

Laiminger (13-10) injured a knee against New Mexico Highlands and returned two weeks ago, but sat out last week to rest.

“I’ve been waiting for (regionals) for a while,” Laiminger said. “I hope to qualify. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in this and it comes down to this weekend.

“It would be really neat (to qualify for nationals), especially since it’s the last time. He’s worked hard for it.”


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