Wrestling gears up for Pac-12 Tournament
No. 9 Oregon State will defend its Pac-12 Championship starting Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 04:03
No. 9 Oregon State looks to defend its Pac-12 Championship this weekend at the Pac-12 Tournament starting Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.
The Beavers (11-4, 3-1 Pac-12) haven’t wrestled for two weeks after falling to No. 7 Virginia Tech in the Regional Duals on Feb. 17 at Gill Coliseum. After the time off, OSU is rested and ready to defend its conference title.
“We definitely want to defend our Pac-12 Championship and prove we’re the best team in the league,” said No. 8 Scott Sakaguchi, a 149-pound junior. “As the defending champions, everyone is always gunning for us. Winning would make a big statement.”
Knocking off No. 19 Boise State would be especially sweet for Oregon State, considering the Broncos (10-5, 5-1 Pac-12) won the last dual between the two rivals 19-15, on Jan. 5 at Gill Coliseum.
After the Broncos, no one else in the conference stands much of a chance. Both Oregon State and Boise State are undefeated against the rest of the Pac-12 in what were mostly blowout victories.
“Some other teams might sneak in there but really I think it’s going to come down to us and Boise State,” said No. 4 Mike Mangrum, a 141-pound senior. “We lost to Boise State earlier this year. I personally don’t think we wrestled very well during that match, but they beat us fair and square, so that’s going to be our competition.”
To recapture conference supremacy, Oregon State will need the younger, unranked weight classes to step up and perform well.
And while Oregon State’s goal is to win its second consecutive Pac-12 Championship, advancing as many wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament as possible is the ultimate goal.
“Yeah, you’re going out there to win [the Pac-12 Championship], but the main thing is you’re trying to get to the next tournament,” said head coach Jim Zalesky. “If you want to go to NCAAs you have to win the tournament, so as individuals we have to try to win at Pac-12s. Overall, that’s the best way you can help your team.”
Mangrum, No. 4 Chad Hanke, No. 6 Taylor Meeks, Sakaguchi, No. 10 RJ Pena and No. 18 Ty Vinson will all likely qualify for the NCAA Tournament in their respective weight classes regardless of their Pac-12 Tournament performance. But the rest of the OSU lineup will need to win to advance.
“At some weights we probably qualify no matter what we do down there, but at other weights they have to step up,” Zalesky said. “Their goal has to be to win the tournament so they know for sure that they’re moving on.”
For the ranked members of Oregon State, the Pac-12 Tournament acts as a warm-up meet for the NCAA Tournament on March 21 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Every wrestler strives for a Pac-12 individual title, but winning an individual national championship holds far greater importance.
“This is definitely a tune-up,” Mangrum said. “But I’m probably going to have some tough matches this weekend. It’s going to be a good competition to set me up for nationals.”
Sakaguchi especially has a lot to wrestle for. No. 2 Jason Chamberlain of Boise State has been a fierce opponent for Sakaguchi for the past two seasons. Taking down Chamberlain en route to a Pac-12 individual championship would be a big confidence booster going into the NCAA Tournament.
“Beating him would be huge,” Sakaguchi said. “We always have great battles. He’s a really tough opponent and beating him would mean I’m ready to compete for a national championship.”
At this point in the season most wrestlers are focused solely on personal achievements. But Oregon State’s wrestlers still share the desire for team success.
“I feel confident going into it that we’re going to win the tournament,” Mangrum said. “We’re a really good tournament team and we always want to win. Winning is everything.”
Andrew Kilstrom, sports editor