Unexpected success: Rubalcaba has been a good surprise for Mesa wrestling

Things don’t always turn out as planned.

Sometimes that’s a good thing.

Mesa State College wrestling coach Chuck Pipher originally planned to redshirt freshman Chris Rubalcaba.

Instead, Rubalcaba has been a pleasant surprise for Pipher and the 20th-ranked Mavericks.

The 133-pound freshman from Rio Rancho, N.M., won a tournament title in his second college tournament and reached the semifinals of the Midwest Classic last weekend in Indianapolis.

“We didn’t really recruit him at 33s, but he’s fit in there,” Pipher said. “We were going to redshirt him, but with Rhett (Breed) going up a weight, he was a good fit for us. He was all for us pulling his redshirt.

“He’s really stepped to the plate. Our goal for him is to be a national qualifier. He’s beaten some of the guys to do that.”

Rubalcaba (14-7) will be wrestling a regional opponent tonight at 7 p.m. when Mesa (0-0) hosts RMAC foe New Mexico Highlands (0-1, 0-1 RMAC) at Brownson Arena. Mesa wrestles Saturday in the Utah Valley Open in Orem, Utah.

“The Highlands program is a year older than us,” Pipher said. “It could be a good dual. I feel like we’ve worked hard to win more duals this year. The way we wrestled last weekend, it’s high time we win more duals this year.

“The Utah Valley Open will be good for our young guys to get some matches. It will be for Cole (Johnson) and Chase (Walker), too. They are behind in getting mat time.”

Although Rubalcaba could’ve gone to school in Las Vegas, N.M., where he lived for several years, he chose Mesa State.

“I knew I wanted to wrestle out of state,” he said. “Of all the schools I looked at, this one blew the rest away with the campus, coaches and workout partners.

“The coaching style fits me. There are a bunch of experienced guys in the room I can learn a lot from.”

Rubalcaba, who was a two-time state champion for Rio Rancho High School, always believed he could wrestle right away as a freshman.

“My initial goal, I wanted to make varsity and qualify for nationals,” Rubalcaba said. “In high school, I had good workout partners. Three of them are Division I wrestlers now. I never felt I did good enough because they always did better.”

Although Pipher planned to redshirt him, Rubalcaba proved he could wrestle at the collegiate level, winning the Old Chicago Northern Colorado Open in only the second week of the season.

After that, Breed, a returning national qualifier, decided he wanted to move up a weight class, giving Rubalcaba a chance to fill the varsity spot.

“He’s a good hard worker and has a great attitude,” Pipher said. “He’s a great student too. He’s probably about a 3.3, 3.4 GPA. We’re pleased with that.”


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