Mavs spoil CSU-Pueblo’s historic return to wrestling
PUEBLO — This dual match was nearly eight years in the making and it lived up to its billing.
CSU-Pueblo’s wrestling team, competing at Massari Arena for the first time since February 2001, had 1,400 fans show up for the historic evening.
Mesa State, however, dampened the celebration of the Pack’s return by capturing a 27-12 victory over the ThunderWolves in the RMAC opening dual for both teams.
“The crowd was great,” CSU-Pueblo coach Dax Charles said. “I just wish we would’ve won a couple more matches. We’re a young team and we need to learn from this and keep improving.”
Prior to Wednesday, the last time CSU-Pueblo wrestled at Massari Arena was Feb. 25, 2001, when the ThunderWolves won the NCAA Division II West Regional/RMAC Championships.
The wrestling program was eliminated on May 15, 2001, because of a shortfall in the school’s athletic budget.
The magnitude of Thursday wasn’t lost on Mesa State coach Chuck Pipher. Pipher was a three-time NAIA national champion from 1987-89 for the school, then known as the University of Southern Colorado, all at 167 pounds.
“I know a lot of people in Pueblo and it was great to be back and wrestle against CSU-Pueblo,” Pipher said. “I wanted to show people what I have done with this Mesa State program the last few years. We wanted to come out here and whip their butt and we were able to get the job done.”
Carl Valley, who was an All-American at 125 pounds for CSU-Pueblo in 2001, is a an assistant coach with the Mavericks.
“It was bitter experience when they dropped the program, and it changed a lot of peoples’ lives, but it was great to have the program back,” Valley said. “We just wanted the win and I’m glad our guys came through.”
The Mavericks return to action at 7 tonight at New Mexico Highlands.
Louie DeSantis ignited the Pack by muscling past Mesa’s Keith Johnson 9-4 in the first match of the night at 149 pounds.
“I was pumped up,” said DeSantis, who is from Escondido, Calif. “This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever wrestled in front of and it was exciting. I wish we would’ve won the match, but we have a good group of core guys and we’re going to establish a winning tradition here again.”
The ThunderWolves couldn’t maintain any momentum.
The Mavericks’ Chase Walker (157 pounds), Cole Johnson (165), Kyle Brightman (174) and Andy Laiminger (184) registered consecutive wins. Laiminger, in somewhat of surprise, pinned CSU-Pueblo’s Kellen Desmond. At the Lone Star Duals last Saturday, Desmond went 4-0.
Pipher actually is in a similar position as Charles. Mesa State dropped its wrestling program in 1991 and began it again in 2006-2007 under Pipher’s direction.
“It was good that two new programs like CSU-Pueblo and Mesa State were wrestling again,” Pipher said. “These programs provide kids more opportunities to wrestle in college and I’m just hoping that people will appreciate and support programs like these, so we can keep wrestling going.”
By TRACY RENCK
Special to The Daily Sentinel