Transfers give Mesa State wrestling team added depth

Mesa wrestlers Chase Walker, left and Cole Johnson go head to head.

Chase Walker decided it was time to give up on wrestling and focus on his future.

After an unsuccessful 1½ years at the University of Northern Colorado, Walker decided to work on getting his degree in construction management.

The junior from Morgan, Utah, was planning to enroll at Weber State when a friend of his encouraged him to come to Mesa State College to get his degree and wrestle.

Walker started taking classes last spring and slowly got back into shape.

A national junior college national champion at Northwest Wyoming Community College, Walker will be eligible in January and is rejuvenated and ready to go.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Walker said. “There are good coaches and partners in the room.”

The Mavericks open their third season with an intrasquad scrimmage at 7 tonight at Brownson Arena before officially beginning the season Saturday in the University of Wyoming Open.

Walker, a 157-pounder, is one of four college transfers on the Mesa State roster this year, the most transfers coach Chuck Pipher’s had on the team in the program’s three years.

Those transfers join returning wrestlers Cole Johnson, a national qualifier last year, Andy Laiminger and Keith Johnson. Taylor Torisk is out for the season with a knee injury. Brandon Mohr also returns but is out with a shoulder injury.

Cole Johnson will likely wrestle at 165 pounds again this year and feels more comfortable with the weight.

“I’m a lot bigger this year,” he said. “I’m better prepared for the whole season.”

Shane Miller joins the Mavericks this season after winning the California Community College Athletic Association 197-pound title.

“I had offers from Portland State and Cal State-Fullerton, but I like the coaches and the program here,” Miller said. “I want to be an All-American and we’ll go from there.”

Jeremy Ensley, a two-time 125-pound junior college All-American, followed his Northwest Wyoming Community College assistant coach, Carl Valley, to Mesa, but Ensley didn’t have enough credits transfer and will have to sit out this season.

Berry Tack transferred from the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) after redshirting last season. He’ll wrestle at 141 pounds.

“I want them to have an immediate impact and let the younger guys grow a bit,” Pipher said. “There’s been a lot of pressure on the younger guys the last two years. I look at some of our older guys like Cole and Andy and am glad they were able to grow. Their bodies matured. They fit in the college role better now.

“We had eight or nine true freshmen on the mat the first year.”

The Mavericks will still have some fresh faces getting plenty of mat time with two sophomores and 19 redshirt freshmen or true freshmen competing for spots.

“I feel we’re on the right track,” Pipher said. “We have a lot more depth than in the past. We should be able to fill all the weight (classes).

“We’ll still be young at 25s, 33s and 41s. We’re still developing guys. We have a good bunch of redshirt freshmen.”

Many of them will be wrestling each other tonight for a spot on the team, including four-time state champion Miguel Baltazar (125) of Culver, Ore., and locals Geronimo Gemoya of Grand Junction,
Steven Reynolds of Central, Chris Harvey of Gypsum, Luke Laurita of Delta, Rhett Breed of Durango and Drake Smith of Dolores.

The 2008 portion of the schedule is filled with tournaments — all of them open to anyone, including ineligible collegiate wrestlers, but they have to compete unattached to teams.

After three open tournaments through December, the Mavericks’ schedule picks up Jan. 2-3 with the Midwest Classic in Indianapolis, Ind. The next weekend, Mesa begins its RMAC duals at CSU-Pueblo, a first-year program.

“There will still be bumps in the road, but we want to progress every year,” Pipher said. “The RMAC is stacked with three programs in the top five (in the nation). That means those three will have eight or nine qualifiers to be ranked that high.

“We’ve got guys that will compete at some weights, but it’s tough to compete as teams with that.”


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