New hairdo part of Johnson’s renewed focus on the mat

Mesa State wrestler Cole Johnson is finding that being a returning national qualifier is a bigger challenge this season.

Cole Johnson had enough of his long hair.

It was getting in his eyes and making it tough to see.

He’s had enough of the struggles he’s been through on the wrestling mat, too.

“I figure I need to clean up my attitude,” said Johnson, who is now sporting a buzz cut. “I need to get ready for regionals.”

Johnson (11-13) has four dual matches remaining before regionals, starting this weekend.
Mesa State (4-4-1, 3-2-1 RMAC) wrestles three RMAC foes at home, including defending national champion and fourth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney (12-4, 2-0 RMAC). That’s the middle match of the weekend, at 7 p.m. on Saturday. All Mesa State alumni receive free admission.

The Mavericks host Fort Hays State (6-2, 3-0 RMAC) at 7 p.m. today, with anyone wearing a Mesa State wrestling T-shirt getting in free. Mesa finishes the weekend with a dual at 1 p.m. on Sunday against San Francisco State (7-5, 2-1 RMAC), which just fell out of the top 20 this week.

Fort Hays moved into the national rankings this week at No. 19.

“They have one wrestler ranked second and another fourth or fifth,” Mesa State coach Chuck Pipher said of the Tigers.

“Kearney has seven or eight ranked (individuals) and is still loaded. You never know about San Francisco. They bring in so many new kids, you don’t know about them, but I think they are a team we can contend with as long as we don’t wrestle like deer in headlights.”

For the most part, the Mavericks have wrestled with something to prove.

Mesa State won its first home dual meet since the program was reinstated three years ago and its first dual against a nationally ranked opponent.

“We wanted to go .500 in duals,” Pipher said. “I wanted to accomplish last year what we are accomplishing this year, but the reality of it is, it’s a time deal.

“Grand Canyon is in its second year and struggling a bit. New Mexico Highlands is in its fourth year and we tied them. You have to go through steps and pay hard knocks.”

Johnson has been with the Mesa State program from the start and was the school’s first NCAA Division II national qualifier last season.

He realizes that doesn’t guarantee him a return trip this season.

“The kid I beat to go to nationals was a returning All-American,” Johnson said. “Just because you’ve been there before doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go to nationals again.

“I’ve wrestled some kids with nothing to lose. They come at me the whole match. I’ve heard the coaches telling them what I’ve done. That makes them come after me more.”

He won nine of his first 15 matches this season, but has lost six of his past eight matches.

“His name’s out there,” Pipher said. “They know who they’re up against. He’s got to step it up a bit. He has a target on his back.

“He’s had a good attitude, but he’s having a hard time winning close matches. Cole knows he’s not where he wants to be, but he feels good about getting there.”

Johnson knows it starts with his attitude.

“In college, everyone is good,” he said. “I try to go out with a nothing-to-lose attitude. I think I’m coming around ... just in time for regionals.”


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