The fledgling Colorado Mesa women's wrestling team left a few too many weight classes open last season because the Mavericks didn't have a full roster in their first season.
That shouldn't be the case this season, with Travis Mercado signing 21 wrestlers, including five high school state champions and a folkstyle national champion. Open Mat ranked CMU's incoming class as the seventh-best in the nation.
Mercado signed at least one wrestler in each weight class, which should provide plenty of depth in the wrestling room — he had only 10 wrestlers last season, nine of whom return.
"We've added much-needed depth and talent in all weight classes, which will help in our team success and improving on last year's dual meet record," Mercado said. "All 21 ladies coming in this fall, all see the vision for our program as we work towards and build a championship team. Each one has a unique skill set and personality that I know will aid each team member in our pursuit of excellence this season. Having one of the top-ranked recruiting classes after a full year of recruiting is awesome."
Topping the class is a two-time New Mexico state champion who can fill one of those open weight classes, 101-pounder Jennesis Martinez. The Manzano High School graduate won the Cadet Folkstyle national championship.
"New Mexico is not generally known for the presence in women's wrestling but Jennesis has been a pioneer in her state and helped develop the growth of girls wrestling in New Mexico," Mercado said in a release announcing his recruiting class. "Jennesis is not afraid to get in with the bigger girls many times wrestling girls 15 pounds more than her and coming out on top."
Anja Tschohl is a 116-pound Kansas state champion from Andover who finished third at the Adidas national tournament and was an All-American at the U.S. Marine Corps Folkstyle nationals. She's only been wrestling for two years, but Mercado said she's made big strides in her technique and can also help fill one of the open weights.
Cindy Zepeda, a 130-pounder from Palm Springs, California, went 34-0 and won the California state title and was third at the High School Nationals.
"Cindy's passion for wrestling is strong but her desire for excellence and growth is stronger. After watching Cindy throughout the season and in the California state tournament, I knew that she would be an impactful student athlete for our program," he said. "Aggressive and focused during her matches, she is always looking to score and put points on the board."
Natalie Benavides, a 136-pounder from Del Norte High School, won the 2018 girls state championship and qualified for the 2017 boys state wrestling tournament, and is one of five Colorado wrestlers to sign with the Mavericks. Benavides lettered in four sports for Del Norte — volleyball, soccer, football and wrestling.
The NCAA in June recommended that women's wrestling become an emerging sport in all three divisions, the next step to it becoming a championship sport.
Colorado Mesa, ranked No. 17 nationally, is picked to finish third in the RMAC this season, behind Colorado Mines at Westminster.
The Mavericks, under first-year coach Andrew Conniff, received 103 points, one behind the Griffins. Mines received 10 of the 11 first-place votes and 120 points.
Two CMU players, 6-foot-4 senior forward Lawan Abary and junior midfielder Peter Vandam, are listed as conference players to watch.
Instead of selecting preseason all-conference teams this year, the RMAC is compiling "watch lists," with players submitted by their respective coaches.
Earlier this month, James McGhee, the Mavs' All-America defender who graduated in May, signed a professional contract with the California United Strikers of the National Independent Soccer Association.
The Strikers play in Orange County, one of three California teams in the 10-team league — the other seven are located in the eastern third of the U.S.
The Maverick women's team is picked to finish ninth in the 14-team conference, with Colorado Mines and CU-Colorado Springs expected to battle for the top spot.
CMU, with Danielle Thurman elevated from assistant to head coach this season, received 84 points in voting of conference coaches. Mines received 13 first-place votes and 169 points and CU-Colorado Springs one first-place vote and 151 points.
On the preseason conference watch list are CMU's senior midfielders Ryanne Parker and Alexis Allard.
Both teams open practice on Friday and have back-to-back scrimmages starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Walker Field.
This is the first year former men's coach Todd Padgett, now the director of soccer, is overseeing both programs.