Training for March: Walker returns to Mavs with championship in mind
The long wait is finally over for Chase Walker.
The Mesa State College senior re-joined the team this week for the first time since he took fifth place in the NCAA Division II national wrestling championships last March.
Although he became the school’s first Division II All-American wrestler in school history, he was disappointed he wasn’t a national champion.
“It’s nice to get back in the room and train real hard again,” Walker said. “I’m training for March. I’m training as hard as I can and letting it all hang out.”
Walker will wrestle in his first tournament with the Mavericks on Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 2-3) in the Midwest Classic at Indianapolis. Walker (1-1) wrestled unattached to Mesa in the University of Wyoming Open back in November, but was injured in a loss. He is healthy and ready to go now.
“Chase has worked a lot this fall,” Mesa coach Chuck Pipher said. “He missed a lot (of practices), but he’s naturally in shape. He wrestles a style, he can hold his shape well. It’s nice to have Chase back on board with his leadership and work ethic.”
Walker couldn’t practice with the team during the fall semester because he has nine semesters of full-time credit hours and NCAA student-athletes are limited to 10.
He wasn’t far away, though.
He was on the other side of Saunders Fieldhouse helping Kiewit Building Group construct the new pool and recreation center.
“It was a good experience to work here,” Walker said. “It was cool to see what was going on; a 60 million dollar project.”
Although he stayed busy, it was difficult to get in a wrestling workout.
He returned to the team seven pounds overweight, but he’s still respected as one of the top contenders for a national title this season.
The 157-pounder (1-1) is ranked second in the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll behind Mercyhurst (Pa.) University’s Andy Lamancusa, who beat Walker to get in the third-place match at nationals last spring. Neither one will have to worry about Nebraska-Omaha’s three-time national champion Todd Meneely. He graduated in the spring.
“It is open with Meneely gone, but it’s definitely a lot of work cut out for us as well,” Pipher said. “Chase’s goal is to be a national champion and nothing less. He told me that last year.”
RMAC rivals Danny Grater of Fort Hays State (Kan.) University and Noomis Jones of Adams State College are ranked third and fourth in the nation.
Jones beat Walker in the 157-pound finals of the Midwest Classic last year.
“We’ll see a lot of D2 kids from back East like Pittsburgh-Johnstown, West Liberty and Newberry,” Pipher said. “There will be some NAIA schools and junior college teams in the mix as well.
“This tournament is where a kid like Chase got his (national) ranking (last year). We’ll see where we compete.”
Mesa’s 165-pounder, Cole Johnson, will be back to wrestle in the tournament as well after missing some time with an injury.
Rhett Breed, the Mavericks’ other national qualifier last year, won’t wrestle in the tournament. Pipher said the 133-pound sophomore will likely redshirt this season because of a nagging ankle injury and chance to put on weight to wrestle at 141 next year.
“He wants to go to 141 and get bigger,” Pipher said. “In the long run, that’s better for us.”