Travis Gardner’s skill grows to match new, bigger opponents
by: OURTESY OF Oregon state university, Oregon State senior Travis Gardner (right, in a December meet against Southern Oregon) is wrestling in a higher weight class than he did last year, when the Beavers won the Pac-10 championship.

CORVALLIS — During his final three years at Parkrose High, Travis Gardner was the starting quarterback on a team that won four games. Total. The lessons learned, though, were invaluable — lessons he has carried over to his wrestling career at Oregon State. “It takes a lot to go out there, week after week, and get crushed,” OSU’s senior heavyweight says. “Sticking with it and perseverence are important traits.” When asked his best traits on a mat, Gardner is quick with a response: “I work hard, and I don’t quit.” Coach Jim Zalesky verifies his wrestler’s claim. “That’s one thing I noticed last year,” says Zalesky, who led Oregon State to the Pac-10 championship in 2006-07 in his first season as coach. “When we put Travis in competition, he doesn’t quit. He took his lumps last year against some guys but just kept fighting, and that’s how he won a lot of matches at the end of the year. He got on a win streak and did a lot of good things.” Wrestling at 197 pounds as a junior, Gardner won nine of his last 10 regular-season matches, then finished fourth at the Pac-10 meet to qualify for nationals. He won his first match there, then lost two and was eliminated without placing, finishing 21-11 for the season. Time to put on the pounds Gardner’s goals this year are to win a conference title and gain All-American status (top eight at the NCAA meet), but he’ll have to do it at heavyweight. Last year’s big man, Pac-10 champ Ty Watterson, is gone, and Zalesky’s best replacement is Gardner, at 220 undersized to go up against the behemoths of the sport. Gardner, who stands 6-3, is in a unique position. Rather than work to cut weight, as all of his teammates do, he must do what he can to keep his weight up. So far, wrestling at heavyweight “has been a little tougher than I expected,” says Gardner, who is 5-4 going into this weekend’s Virginia duals at Hampton, Va. “I haven’t faced (an opponent) as small as me so far. You have to make up for it somehow.” Zalesky says Gardner —one of only two Beaver seniors — is capable of just that. “He has better wrestling skills than a lot of heavyweights,” the coach says. “He isn’t going to overpower anybody, but he can use his skills to win a lot of matches. “With every match, he feels a little more comfortable at that weight class. We feel by the end of the year, Travis will be a guy who can be real competitive in the Pac-10s. He’s right in there with everybody in the conference.” Team shifts and builds Zalesky can’t say that about many of his current wrestlers. After losing nearly all of his regulars from last year’s Pac-10 championship squad, the coach is using only one wrestler — junior Kyle Bressler at 184 — at the same weight class as a year ago. “I’ve never had this inexperienced a team,” says Zalesky, who coached Iowa to three NCAA titles and a 127-34 dual-meet record in nine seasons. “That’s not the ideal situation, but it’s where we’re at. Our job is to keep improving as the year goes on.” Zalesky suffered the most one-sided loss of his head-coaching career when the Beavers were bounced 42-3 by 11th-ranked Nebraska last Friday. The Cornhuskers “were good,” concedes Gardner, who fell 4-2 to 20th-ranked Jon May. “But some of the guys were a little star-struck and got caught up in it. We didn’t perform the way we should have.” Zalesky has a strong freshman class, “which is a foundation to build on, but it’s only one recruiting group,” he says. “Nebraska can beat any team in the country. You have to realize where you’re at. But we’ll work hard and keep building, and we’re going to get to the top someday.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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