Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt. 7
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Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt. 7

The Oregon State Beavers

Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt. 7

(2016 Pac-12 285lbs Champion, 5th-place All-American Amarveer Dhesi)

Heavy is the crown. The 2016 (and 6x) Pac-12 Coach of the Year Jim Zalesky has maintained a standard of conference excellence since he took over the program prior to the 2006-2007 season. Despite the ever-altering, and deepening, Pac-12 field, Jim Zalesky has proven time and time again he’s among the top coaches in the nation, holding the conference team title since 2012.


When Jim Zalesky took the helm at Oregon State, the Beavers were chasing lofty goals after Coach Joe Wells, who coached from 1993-2006, retired with a 13-2-1 dual meet record in 2006 alongside a 4th-place conference placement. Zalesky brought with him seven NCAA Top 4 Team trophies from his nine-year tenure as the head coach at the University of Iowa, including three national titles. In his first year, Zalesky showed that he was up to the task of leading Oregon State to prominence. At the 2007 Pac-10 tournament (as it was then called), Oregon State won its first conference title since 1994, coupled with the best NCAA tournament team-finish (26th) since 2001 (18th-place). In the nine subsequent seasons, Jim Zalesky has continued his progress. With ten going on eleven seasons under his belt with Oregon State, Zalesky is the third-longest tenured coach in Beaver history; he’s second all-time for conference titles as the OSU head coach with seven.

Fortifying the Dam

((Now) Associate Head Coach Kevin Roberts, left, and Head Coach Jim Zalesky, seated-right, at the 2016 Pac-12 Championships)

Zalesky and staff have been able to produce at a high-standard, given that OSU has only dipped as low as third in the conference standings once since 2007 (and even then, it was only in 2008, when Stanford out-scored Oregon State by 0.5-pts for second-place). That which eludes OSU is NCAA hardware on both the individual and team levels. Zalesky has earned 10 Beaver All-Americans thus far (among them California-products Colby Covington, Clayton Jack, and Scott Sakaguchi), but has yet to come home from NCAAs with a team-trophy. Indeed, Oregon State has only cracked the NCAA Top 10 twice (2012, 2013) during Zalesky’s tenure. Perhaps both a response to the field and recent results, Zalesky has added to his staff two young assistants to prepare Oregon State for the future.

It must be noted that long-time right-hand man Troy Steiner (who spent a total of ten years with Oregon State, the last four as the associate head coach) departed the OSU program earlier this year in order to take on the challenge as the newest head coach of the returning Fresno State Bulldogs program. You don’t replace a coach like Steiner overnight, but Zalesky has done a good job despite the departure.

Newly-minted Associate Head Coach Kevin Roberts has been with Zalesky in OSU since the beginning, getting the nod with his new position on the staff. The promotion of Roberts has allowed for two young post-grads to enter the fold. The first is 3x All-American Ian Miller, who graduated earlier this year after one of the best careers in Kent State history. Miller was the victim of incompetence at the 2015 NCAAs that cost him a bid to the semi-finals (and as fate would have it, the finals), but still managed to use his high-level, exciting style to All-American. Now on the coaching side of the sport, Miller looks to build his coaching skill under Zalesky in Corvallis as a Volunteer Assistant Coach. He brings utility and talent to the room as a high-quality middleweight training partner as well as a unique technician. Joining Ian Miller is 2014 OSU alum, 2013 Pac-12 Champion and All-American Taylor Meeks. Meeks spent a year with Boise State but returned to his alma mater to become an assistant coach. He looks to help maintain the heavyweight tradition at Oregon State, namely aiding 2016 Pac-12 Champion, All-American Amarveer Dhesi at 285lbs, in addition to Meeks’s old weight-classes of 184 and 197.

All About March

(2012 All-American, 2x Pac-12 Champion Mike Mangrum at 141lbs, top)

The Oregon State Beavers have looked to build consistently on their performances. Their high output on the Pac-12 level (i.e., six of the last seven conference titles) has coincided with an ever-increasing rate of individual conference titles and instances of All-Americans. The start of the decade was highlighted by 2x Pac-12 champion, 2011 All-American Colby Covington. In 2012, Oregon State had its best year to date under Zalesky, winning the first of eventually five (and counting) Pac-12 team titles with four individuals champions, three All-Americans, and a 10th-place finish at NCAAs.

(2012 All-American, 2x Pac-12 Champion Clayton Jack at 285lbs)

2x Pac-12 champion, 2012 All-American Michael Mangrum was one of the most outspoken, and important, wrestlers of these early-decade teams. Ranked among the top wrestlers in the nation toward the end of his career, Mangrum was a contemporary of other highly-ranked Beavers, including Pac-12 champions and All-Americans Scott Sakaguchi and RJ Pena, along with a dynasty of outstanding heavyweights.

(2x All-American, 2x Pac-12 Champion Scott Sakaguchi at 149lbs)

The latest in that list of high caliber heavyweights for the Beavers (which includes Ty Watterson, Travis Gardner, Clayton Jack, and Chad Hanke, all of whom are Pac-12 champions) is 2014 Junior World Champion, 2016 Pac-12 Champion and All-American Amarveer Dhesi. Dhesi was the lone Beaver All-American last year and enters his junior season as one of the top-ranked heavyweights in the nation.

Dhesi is joined by a seasoned cast of teammates. At 125lbs, Junior Ronnie Bresser enters his third season as a 2015 Pac-12 Champion and 2x NCAA qualifier. Bresser fell in the 2015 NCAA Round of 16 as a freshman, and last year lost in the blood round, a win away from All-American, to Stanford rival Connor Schram (who also beat Bresser in the 2016 Pac-12 finals). Bresser appears in position to vie for his first All-American honor this season.

(2015 Pac-12 Champion, 2016 Runner-up Ronnie Bresser at 125lbs, left)

Bresser is joined by fellow 2x NCAA qualifiers Joey Palmer at 133lbs and Joey Delgado at 149lbs, who both got their hand-raised at the national tournament last year. Both Palmer and Delgado are in the senior-campaigns for the Beavers. California-prep, redshirt-sophomore Corey Griego also qualified for nationals last year after a runner-up finish at Pac-12s. Redshirt-junior Cody Crawford looks to return to the national tournament after missing last year (2016) as the 2015 Pac-12 champion and NCAA qualifier.

In aggregate, Oregon State returns the bulk of its power to complement regional (Pacific Northwest and California coast) talent that has found All-American level success in the Oregon State program. Despite maintaining their lock on the Pac-12, Oregon State has slipped since 2013, Zalesky’s tenure-high 8th-place team boasting six Pac-12 finalists, three champions, three top-5 NCAA All-Americans w/ two round-of-12 finishers.

In 2014, returning All-American Scott Sakaguchi fell a match short of a third-straight All-American honor after reaching the quarter-finals. Fellow 2013 All-Americans RJ Pena and Taylor Meeks also failed to repeat. Then-junior Joe Latham and first-year Amarveer Dhesi fell in the round-of-16.

Oregon State ramped up in 2015, finishing with eight conference finalists, five of them winning Pac-12 crowns. Despite their conference-dominance, Oregon State had three wrestlers fall in the round-of-12 (two of whom reached the national quarter-finals) and two fall in the round-of-16. 2015 marked two straight years without an All-American.

The 2016 Oregon State team got the jobbed done earning another conference title, putting four in the finals and earning one champion in Amarveer Dhesi. Dhesi would also earn Oregon State’s first All-American in three-seasons, setting the tone for the coming wrestling season. 2016 left much to be desired, but was not a bad year per se. While 2015 brought five Pac-12 champions, 2016 meant putting another Beaver on the All-American stand.

In 2016-2017, Oregon State returns all four of its 2016 Pac-12 finalists, which includes 2015 champ and 2016 blood-round finisher Bresser. Fellow 2015 conference champ Cody Crawford looks to get back on the national scene whilst senior Joey Palmer will look to break into the national top-8 after going 2-2 as a junior. Of course, Dhesi could look to be Coach Zalesky’s first top-3 NCAA finisher at OSU, a goal that seems very much within reach for the talented heavyweight.

Oregon State will have it’s work cut out for it if it looks to keep winning conference titles. As we’ve seen in the months leading up to this year’s collegiate wrestling season, every school in the Pac-12 has suddenly become very involved in investing in their programs, looking to re-establish themselves on the national scene. As of last year, Stanford led the the conference with a 19th-place team finish at NCAAs, with Oregon State in 22nd. Arizona State looks to field its star-powered redshirt-freshmen class and take back the conference crown. Coaching changes have led to new faces at Cal Poly SLO, Boise State, and CSU Bakersfield. Despite all this, Zalesky’s crew keeps on progressing at a yearly-rate, and I believe the defending Pac-12 champions will be well-prepared for the future firefights in the conference and with a familiar face at Fresno State.

Want more from D1 Wrestling?

Coaching Conundrum: Part 1: Fresno State / Part 2: Boise State / Part 3: Cal-Poly SLO / Part 4: CSU Bakersfield / Part 5: Stanford / Part 6: Arizona State by Darius Levan

July ‘16: D1 Wrestling Update on Fresno State and Boise State

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