Mesa State hopes to qualify more wrestlers for nationals this weekend
Cole Johnson is looking for some company this time.
The Mesa State College junior wrestler is looking to qualify for the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships for the second consecutive year, but coach Chuck Pipher is hoping he won’t be the only one going to nationals.
“We want to improve on the last couple of years,” Pipher said. “We’d like to get two or three or even more to nationals. Anything less than two and we would not be gaining. We want to keep finishing higher.”
The NCAA West Regional takes place Saturday in Kearney, Neb. The region features five nationally ranked programs, including defending national champion and region host Nebraska-Kearney. The Lopers are ranked fifth, one spot behind Western State. Adams State is ranked 12th, Fort Hays State is ranked 14th and Chadron State is ranked 15th.
The top four wrestlers in the region qualify for nationals.
Johnson (11-14) will be wrestling his first match since injuring his hamstring on Feb. 8. The 165-pounder will likely be a fifth seed, Pipher said. His bracket includes third-ranked Taylor May (28-11) of Kearney.
“When (Johnson) was injured, he started to turn the corner,” Pipher said. “The flip side of that is he’s had some rest. Sometimes that helps as well.”
Another Mesa State junior, Chase Walker, has a good chance to qualify for nationals.
The 157-pounder (24-4) is ranked third in the nation, but he faces a tough draw with three returning All-Americans and four returning national qualifiers.
“The 157-pound class is loaded,” Pipher said. “Chase has his work cut out for him, but if he takes care of business, he’ll be fine. He knows he can’t overlook anyone.”
Junior Andy Laiminger (8-17) placed sixth in regionals last year and is dangerous for opponents.
Other potential Mesa State qualifiers are 133-pound freshman Rhett Breed (13-8), 149-pounder Keith Johnson (10-13) and freshman heavyweight Trevor Stapp (7-11).
Indoor Track & Field
Mesa State’s track team has been plagued by injuries and the Mavs won’t have a couple of their top performers back in time for the RMAC Championships today and Saturday in Chadron, Neb.
Junior Ashlee Hafey has been out all season and will miss the outdoor season, but the latest blow may be the biggest in the Mavericks’ chances of qualifying someone for nationals or placing in the top five as a team.
Freshman cross-country All-American Alexis Skarda sustained an injury in her right leg and will not compete. She has the third-best time in the 3,000-meter run (10:12.34).
“The rest of us will have to pick up the slack,” Mesa State coach Katrice Thomas said. “The girls are excited. Without Alexis it will be hard. We’ll see if the girls can fill in the gap. The top five was our goal before (Skarda’s injury). We’ll still try to come back with fast times.”