(Photo credit: Kelsey Lang)
(Photo credit: Kelsey Lang)

Wrestling Grabs Hold as Club Sport

UA students have started a wrestling club, refueling their passion for the sport and adding structure to their lives. The wrestlers and their coach, a UA graduate, hope to eventually see the team gain NCAA Division I status.
March 3, 2015
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View the photo gallery of the wrestling team on UANews.org: "Wrestling's Revival at the UA."

After a nearly decade-long hiatus, a wrestling program has returned to the University of Arizona, giving students and an alumnus-turned-coach an outlet for passion they have long missed.

UA Wrestling is composed of wrestlers of all backgrounds, everyone from a state champion to a football player to students who never have wrestled before.  

"If you ask anyone who wrestles, it becomes engrained in your everyday life," said UA sophomore Frank Straka, who is studying nutrition and physiology. "Without that structure, it's always felt like something was missing."

Straka helped establish the student-run club team last semester after partnering with another UA student, Marco Colpo. The two joined senior Pablo Mata and junior Anthony Goduco, who had also been talking about starting a team.

"It was basically starting up a business," Straka said, also the team's president. To launch the club, the students had to gain approval through UA Campus Recreation.  

The team also needed a coach.

UA students Angel Medina and Wyatt Peña, who also joined the team in November, suggested their former coach from San Manuel High School: Vince Majalca, who was a UA student when practices first began last November. He was a full-time student, had a full-time job and had to commute an hour from Oracle to get to the practices to coach.

"I've always wanted to coach college wrestling and it's been a dream. I mean literally a dream to coach for the UA," said Majalca, who began coaching his new team while taking his final classes at the UA.

While the team is currently affiliated with the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, Majalca hopes to eventually gain NCAA Division I status, like Arizona basketball, or at least the same prominence as Wildcats Hockey, a well-known club team. Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University have the state's only Division I wrestling programs.

"Even though it is a club team, we don't wrestle like a club team," Majalca said. "You can see it in practice — we're very disciplined, we push each other."

He runs heaters during practices to test the wrestlers' resolve, teach them discipline and build character. He says coaching is an outlet for his wrestling passion, and he's happy that the UA has allowed students to pursue their aspirations as well.

He certainly has "lived" wrestling.

From 1994-98, Majalca wrestled for San Manuel in a small town near Tucson. He then wrestled for his Army unit at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Since graduating in December, he still finds the time to coach the team but also offers the wrestlers something for outside the gym.

"This isn't just something where we get together. You don't play wrestling. You live it," he said.

"I've always said this since I first started wrestling: 'If a wrestler can put as much effort into life as they do a sport, be it being a good husband or good father or good worker, or whatever it is that's needed of you, if you can put the same effort that you do in the wrestling room into life, all you're going to be is successful.'"

Mata, who is also the team's secretary, is in his final semester at the UA and said it's the best start to a semester he has had.

Wrestling "disciplines me to be a better student," he said. "Wrestling kind of translates — the discipline of wrestling, it's really an art. It really teaches me to be patient with my work, to progress, no matter the adversity. Those principles translate over to the academics."

So far, the team has traveled to other states to face teams from Brigham Young, Utah Valley, Boise State, Utah and USC. The team picked up a big victory against USC and even received a standing ovation after losing to Brigham Young.

"They liked our integrity, they liked our character, they liked our sportsmanship." Majalca said. "We've been at this for four months and we've been pretty successful. We've turned some heads."

The team recently took second place in the NCWA's West Coast Conference meet, qualifying six wrestlers for the national tournament in mid-March in Allen, Texas. They are: Alvaro Gallego, a nutritional sciences major; Nathan Mendivil, a psychlogy major; Marco Colpo, who is studying optical sciences; Raul Moraga, an astronomy major; Timmy Halaby; and Jorge Loya-Lopez, a mining engineering major. More information is available online.

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"We're just getting started. We're all in," Majalca said. "The fact that the University of Arizona has been so open and allowed the students to put it on their shoulders, it goes to show that the University really believes in their students, they believe in their product.

"The UA is not just a school where you go to learn something. It's where you learn to be a successful person."

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