Mesa’s Walker, Breed hope for top-8 finish at nationals
Chase Walker and Rhett Breed took the long way to qualify for nationals, but that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied.
The Mesa State College wrestlers will compete in their first NCAA Division II Championship this weekend in Houston with a determination to bring home hardware. The tournament starts at 10 a.m. on Friday with two rounds and concludes with the finals at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
“I’m excited for sure,” Breed said after qualifying nearly two weeks ago. “I want to be an All-American.”
The Mavericks are looking for their first All-American as a Division II program since it was reinstated three years ago. To achieve that, a wrestler must place in the top eight at the national tournament.
Mesa State had its first national qualifier last year, Cole Johnson, but he didn’t win a match.
Walker and Breed are looking to win more than one match this year.
Walker (29-5) has a championship resume. The 157-pound junior from Morgan, Utah, was a three-time high school state champion and a junior college national champion at Northwest (Wyo.) College. He is in his first year at Mesa State.
“He’s close to having 30 wins; that’s phenomenal,” Mesa State coach Chuck Pipher said. “He’s had a great year. I say All-American and he says national champion. Chase has wrestled (Meneely) before. He knows what he’s about.”
Walker, ranked fourth in the nation, faces Augustana College’s Jonathan Jackson (16-8) in the first round. If Walker wins that, he has a potential matchup with two-time 149-pound national champion and top-ranked Todd Meneely (18-0) of Nebraska-Omaha in the quarterfinals.
“Obviously, you can’t look past anyone,” Walker said. “If I do win that, I’ll get Meneely, who’s probably lost less than 10 matches in college. I think I have as good a chance as anyone. (Fort Hays State’s Danny) Grater wrestled him to a one-point match and I’ve beat the guy he beat two years ago in the finals.”
The 157-pound weight class includes four All-Americans, with three on the other half of the bracket.
Breed (17-9) is competing in his first national tournament. The freshman from Durango was a two-time state placer in high school.
“Rhett, being as young as he is, doesn’t care who he’s wrestling,” Pipher said. “He has nothing to lose and that’s why he’s where he’s at today. His philosophy is, ‘I’ve got to beat them all anyway.’ He’s tough. If it works in his favor, it does. We’d love to see him bring home an All-American.”
The 133-pounder has a tough draw as well. His first match is against third-ranked Joe Kemmerer (23-1) of Kutztown (Pa.) University. Kemmerer, a senior, won the 133-pound national title two years ago.
“I do have a tough kid first round, but anything can happen in nationals,” Breed said. “I definitely want to beat one of those guys. I’ve worked my butt off all year and want to prove I’m here for a reason.
“I’ve said from the beginning of the year, my goal is to be an All-American. I would be disappointed if didn’t come home with some hardware.”
The winner of that match will likely face last year’s 125-pound champion, Cody Garcia (30-8) of Nebraska-Omaha. Newberry (S.C.) College’s Andrew Young, who placed seventh last year, is in the same half of the bracket.
Top-ranked Nebraska-Omaha and No. 2 Minnesota State-Mankato qualified their entire teams for the championships. RMAC champion Western State has seven national qualifiers.