The return of standouts Ronnie Bresser and Amarveer Dhesi from redshirt years and the addition of several transfers and new recruits should pay big dividends for the Oregon State wrestling team.
The Beavers (1-0) hope to regain the form that powered them to five consecutive Pac-12 championships from 2012-16. They fell to third place behind Arizona State and Stanford at the 2017 tournament.
OSU (1-0) opened the season on Nov. 9 with a convincing 42-6 victory over NAIA opponent Eastern Oregon at Gill Coliseum. It started new faces in five of the 10 weight classes.
The Beavers then won two titles at the Mike Clock Open at Pacific University on Sunday, even though the starters sat while resting for Thursday’s nonconference dual against George Mason at Fairfax, Virginia.
“We’re better competing-wise, up and down the lineup,” coach Jim Zalesky said after the EOU dual.
He said they have "better competitors” than the unit that went 5-7 overall and 4-1 in Pac-12 duals in 2017, the first losing season in Zalesky’s 12-year OSU tenure.
“Last year we had some guys who put their heads down when the going got tough," Zalesky said. "You can’t put your head down. Even if you get beat, you have to battle, you have to fight.”
Three-time NCAA qualifier Jack Hathaway (141) and two-time NCAA vets Cody Crawford (hwt.) and Corey Griego (197) are OSU’s top returnees. Hathaway and Crawford are redshirt seniors; Griego is a redshirt junior.
Hathaway was 19-13 overall, took second at the Pac-12 tournament, advanced to the NCAA Championships and earned the Chad Flack “Most Improved” Award.
Crawford was 24-9 and took second place at the Pac-12 championships in his first season as a heavyweight after competing at 197 for three years. He advanced to NCAAs, where he went 2-2, and had six pins.
Griego moved up a weight class from his redshirt freshman year and was the Pac-12 champion. He went 1-2 at NCAAs and 25-10 overall.
Redshirt sophomore Seth McLeod (184) earned a starting spot at midseason in 2016-17 following his transfer from Boise State. He was 7-9 overall and in position to qualify for NCAAs before spraining an ankle the day before the Pac-12 tournament.
Bresser is expected to join the lineup for the Dec. 10 dual at Michigan. He is a two-time NCAA qualifier who placed second at the Pac-12 tournament in 2016 after winning it as a freshman in 2015.
Dhesi is still recovering from a November 2016 ACL reconstruction, the second of his career. A two-time NCAA qualifier, he placed fifth at the 2016 championships and earned All-American honors.
“They are our best guys, talent-side,” Zalesky said. “They were our leaders two years ago and missing them last year really hurt us.
“Having those guys in the lineup, or in the training room day to day, really adds to our team.
“Hopefully Ronnie will be back for Michigan. Amar, we’re working him back in slowly. They’ll get their shot by Midlands (Dec. 29-30) for sure. Then hopefully after Midlands we’ll have our lineup set for sure."
Last year’s starter at 125, Kegan Calkins, has moved up to 133 so the Beavers will most likely forfeit there until Bresser returns. Last year’s 174-pounder, Bob Coleman, is redshirting.
“We did not do what we wanted to do last year,” Crawford said. “This year we hope to get back to where we should be. “Everybody is working hard and is really excited about what we can accomplish.”
New starters are Devan Turner (133); Kurt Mode (141), a 2017 All-American at Mt. Hood CC; four-time Colorado state champion Hunter Willits (157); Boise State transfer Billy Bigelow (165); and 2015 Oregon 5A state champion Myles Terry (184).
Willits and Terry are freshmen. Turner is a redshirt freshman; Mode and Bigelow are redshirt sophomores.
OSU’s biggest losses from 2017 were three-time NCAA qualifiers Joey Palmer (133) and Joey Delgado (149). Also gone are starters Abe Rodrigues (157), who graduated, and Weston Dobler (165), who transferred to Minnesota-Moorhead, near his hometown of West Fargo, North Dakota.
OSU’s next home dual is Jan. 14 against Wyoming. It opens the Pac-12 dual season with Arizona State on Jan. 20.
The Beavers also host the Pac-12 Championships on Feb. 25. The NCAAs are March 15-17 in Cleveland. OSU took 28th at last year’s NCAAs with 12.5 points.
Crawford said he thinks OSU should improve upon that finish this March.
“It’s just a lot better feeling with the team, a more fun atmosphere,” he said. “These new guys really have added a lot and hopefully will make us a lot tougher.”