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Legends collide as college wrestling returns to Pueblo

Finding former college wrestlers in a crowd is easy – just look at the ears.

Mangled. Deformed. Disfigured. Detached. And that’s just their girlfriends.

Seriously, the return of wrestling to Colorado State University-Pueblo on Wednesday was a class reunion of the macho sect. The ThunderWolves played host to Mesa State College in a match, on campus, for the first time in eight years.

The walking wounded from bygone eras made their way back to the hill to witness first-hand the resurrection. Many still limp and they all have battle scars. They wear their disfigurements like badges of honor. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oh, there was a little bit of ceremony. The team ran through a blow-up tunnel as music blasted through the new Massari Arena sound system. And nearly 2,000 enjoyed something old becoming something new again.

Still, this was about organized carnage – guys who sweat and bleed and fight – going against another group of guys who do the exact same thing.

Tension was palpable hours before the match started. And that was because the respective head coaches made their bones in the sport right here.

ThunderWolves head coach Dax Charles, who turns laundry into a competition, had to dial down his intensity and greet supporters in a pre-match gathering.

It was his hardest job of the night.

The noticeable sweat wasn’t from nerves; it was from firing up his team as it prepared to battle a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival.

Then there was Mavericks’ coach Chuck Pipher. He was working the same room as Charles. Both are former CSU-Pueblo legends. Pipher was a three-time NAIA national champ. Charles was an NCAA Division II national champ.

Both were all-Americans. When stories are written about CSU-Pueblo wrestling, these two names are as prominent as any.

“I saw a lot of familiar faces,” Pipher said as his team pulled off the 27-12 victory. “It was like I never left. I lived here for five years and know a lot of people. It was great to see wrestling come back.”

Mesa State added wrestling two years ago. But Pipher, for the first time in his short college-coaching career, put 10 wrestlers on the mat.

“Of course, he had to wait to do it against us,” Charles joked. “Chuck’s done a great job and I’m proud of the way my guys competed.”

Ceremony, for wrestlers, gets trumped by fear, anxiety and adrenaline. Opening night was a big deal, but the crowds won’t be this good again for a long time.

“We packed the house when we wrestled Iowa,” Charles said. “But I never saw this many people for wrestling out here for a match except for that night. This was great community support and gives us something to build on.”

As soon as referee Kirk Waldero blew the whistle for the first time Wednesday, Pipher and Charles were all business. They coached like they competed.

Charles didn’t lose very often at Massari. Wednesday’s outcome was just one of many more rough nights to come.

But the ThunderWolves are every bit as much as winners as the Mavericks. Both schools reinstated wrestling programs. They both turned to men who understand what it takes to bring out the best in young men.

Wrestling returned Wednesday to Massari Arena.

And the carnage was a thing of beauty to see.

By JOE CERVI (Original here)

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