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Q and A with Oregon State coach Jim Zalesky
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Jim Zalesky’s successful run as the head wrestling coach at Oregon State has continued this season.

Zalesky, now in his seventh season with the Beavers, led his squad to the team title at the Reno Tournament of Champions this past weekend in Reno, Nevada.

Oregon State outscored runner-up Boise State 145-119 to roll to the title. The Beavers placed fourth earlier this season at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.

Oregon State is ranked 15th nationally by WIN Magazine. The Beavers are led by returning All-Americans Mike Mangrum (141 pounds) and Scott Sakaguchi (149). Mangrum was fifth in the 2012 NCAA tournament and Sakaguchi seventh for a team that finished 10th.

National qualifier R.J. Pena (157) was named Outstanding Wrestler at the Reno event. Heavyweight Chad Hanke also has excelled after taking an Olympic redshirt last year. Hanke placed second at the 2011 U.S. World Team Trials in freestyle wrestling. Taylor Meeks placed second at Reno at 197.

Mangrum is ranked eighth nationally, Sakaguchi sixth, Pena ninth, Meeks ninth and Hanke eighth.

Zalesky won three NCAA titles as a wrestler for Iowa and later coached the Hawkeyes to three straight NCAA team titles. He has led Oregon State to three conference championships.

Zalesky took time out of his busy schedule to talk with USA Wrestling communications manager Craig Sesker about how his team is progressing this season.

How do you feel your team is performing heading into the holiday break?

We’ve wrestled some good competition. It’s been good to test our team and see where we are at. We have five weight classes that we feel can compete with anybody. And then we are trying to bring along the other five guys in the lineup.

Which wrestlers have looked good early in the season?

Mike Mangrum started out a little slow this year, but he’s come back strong. He was in the finals in Vegas and in the finals in Reno. He’s progressing and doing a good job. He didn’t wrestle his best at nationals last year. He was an All-American, but I think he was looking to place higher. We are trying to make sure he is ready to have a real good tournament this year.

Scott Sakaguchi, who also was an All-American for us last year, has been doing real well. R.J. Pena has won 11 straight matches and Taylor Meeks was second in Reno. And then we have had some good results from Chad Hanke at heavyweight. We like where we are with all five of those guys.

How has Hanke fit into the lineup after bumping up to heavyweight?

Chad has wrestled decent this year. He’s bigger and stronger, and he’s a lot tougher. That’s a lot tougher weight and a deeper weight than it was last year. The Olympic redshirt helped Chad with his maturity and with his development. We think he can do real well this season.

How do you bring along the other five weight classes in your lineup?

A lot of it is just experience. We are starting freshmen at 125 and 133. They just need some time on the mat. We need to bring along the guys at 165, 174 and 184 as well. We are looking for some guys to step up.

How does Oregon State become an even bigger factor at the NCAA tournament?

I think we’ve progressed every year, and that’s the main thing I am looking for. It’s tough to move into that top tier as you get better, but that’s what we are looking to do. We are looking to finish better at nationals.

The main thing is to have patience when you are building a program. You need to go wrestle the toughest competition. We need to face the best teams so we know where we are at, and that’s what we’ve done.

What is it going to be like to have your team competing in the historic 50th Midlands Championships later this month?

It’s a great event. I wrestled in it three times, and was fortunate to win it twice. It’s a real good event and it will be another tough competition for our team to wrestle in. You wrestle some good opponents and you have to make weight twice. It’s good preparation for what you will see at the NCAA tournament.

What has your team been up to since wrestling in Reno?

We’ve given them a little bit of time off. We’ve given them a chance to go home for Christmas, and then they will come back the day after Christmas before we head to Midlands.

What does your team need to do between now and March to accomplish its goals?

The day-to-day progression is what we really look at. We are looking at areas we need to improve in and what kind of work we need to do to keep getting better.

You have spent a majority of your life living in your native Iowa. How do you like being in the state of Oregon?

I love it up here. It’s one of those places I always liked. When the opportunity came to become the head coach here, it was something I really wanted to do. Oregon State has been real supportive of what we are doing with the wrestling program. They had a good tradition when I came here, and they have real good alumni support. It’s a great situation to be in.

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