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CC's Vidlak steadfast on commitment to Beavers

Gabe Vidlak didn’t waver last fall when he committed to the Oregon State wrestling program.

The Cascade Christian star didn’t waver in the winter when he stormed through the Class 3A ranks to earn his third straight state championship.

Come this spring when the Beavers opted to move on from head coach Jim Zalesky after 14 years with the program and seven Pacific-12 Conference titles, again Vidlak said he didn’t budge.

Fortunately, new head coach Chris Pendleton didn’t waver on his commitment to previous Oregon State recruits like Vidlak after taking over on March 30.

“Gabe is one of the young men that has committed to come to Oregon State because of Oregon State, not just because of the coaching staff,” said Pendleton. “When the transition happened, he was one of the first calls that I made and I got to pitch him my vision and who I am and what I believe in, and him and his family have been all in. I can’t wait to get to know the kid and sit down and finally meet him face to face and spend time building that relationship with him like every other athlete.”

Vidlak capped his high school career in February by going 45-0 en route to a repeat state championship at 126 pounds. He was the first Challenger ever to win a state championship when he won as a sophomore in 2018, a year after placing third, and wound up with a 135-5 record overall at Cascade Christian.

Vidlak said he was sad to see the likes of Oregon State coaches Zalesky, Taylor Meeks and Ian Miller exit the program, but it didn’t take him long to acclimate to Pendleton and the plan he has for the Beavers.

“It’s kind of sad to see them leave but also some new blood is always nice,” said Vidlak, who first spoke with Pendleton three weeks ago. “I was definitely a little nervous at first when I heard they were bringing in somebody new, but coach Pendleton has a good track record, he’s a good coach and he had a great career himself. After talking to him, it kind of just put me at ease and now I’m even more excited for what’s to come.”

Pendleton spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach at Arizona State, which has won three of the last four Pac-12 titles. The Sun Devils finished this past shortened season ranked No. 6 in the country with seven top-20 victories, including snapping No. 1 Penn State’s 60-match win streak.

Known to be a high-level recruiter, Pendleton was named one of the top 10 wrestlers of the 2000s by InterMat Magazine after compiling a record of 118-12 in his four years (2001-05) at Oklahoma State. He was a two-time NCAA champion and earned three All-American honors at 174 pounds. The Cowboys won three NCAA championships during his competitive career.

“He’s a great guy, I absolutely love him,” said Vidlak. “I’m looking forward to getting to work under him.”

With the nation in quarantine mode due to the coronavirus, Pendleton said he’s probably had “the most unique start to a head coaching career” when it comes to transitioning to Oregon State.

“Everything is an uphill battle right now but we’re all in it together,” he said.

When it came down to honoring commitments by his predecessors’ recruits, Pendleton said building a program is always a balancing act but he tried to be as honest as he could with them all — even if that wasn’t always the ego boost some kids crave.

“He was pretty honest with me and said he hadn’t really heard of me very much so he looked into it once he checked over the roster and everything,” said Vidlak. “He said he wants to give me the same chance the other coaching staff wanted to give me, and that was really nice. Now my hope is just to come in and make a big impact and shock them all.”

Added Pendleton: “I think it would’ve been foolish on my part to try to come in and bring all new people when there’s good kids of good character that are hungry for leadership and to drive the program in a new direction. So far the buy-in has been just really humbling and I am just excited to get to continue to work with these kids.”

Starting with the 2009-10 season, Oregon State earned an impressive six Pac-12 titles over a seven-season span. The Beavers have remained competitive, mind you, it’s just that some of the luster was beginning to wear off. OSU has gone 2-2 in Pac-12 matches in each of the last three years and 19-20 overall. The last time the Beavers finished better than 20th in the NCAA championships was an eighth-place showing in 2013.

“One of the things that attracted me to this job is I do believe the talent is there,” said Pendleton. “It falls on me to develop the talent and get the best results out of them. But at the same time, it is a chance for us all to take a step back and look at the kind of culture that we want going forward. Every individual matters in the program. There’s 35 athletes, 10 go to the NCAA tournament and we don’t know how many bring home hardware. How are the other 20 athletes servicing the program and what is the program doing to service them.”

That ideal is attractive to someone like Vidlak, whose father and coach Dan Vidlak won three Pac-10 titles in his heyday at the University of Oregon and went on to earn a gold medal as a member of the U.S. national team at the Pan-American Games.

“He wants to make a lot of changes and he really wants to focus in on academics,” said the 18-year-old, who boasts a 3.8 grade-point average. “He wants to make sure that the kids are more than just wrestlers, they’re getting a good education and working hard in school and on the mat.”

It’s that part that Pendleton said his current Beavers have already gotten off to a good start this spring despite online classes and social distancing protocols.

“I’m extremely excited about this program and when the world finally comes back to a little bit of its normal self, we’re going to get to work,” said Pendleton. “But for right now, the only thing that we can do is we can prioritize the things in life that really matter: the health and safety of the athletes and our academic goals that we have set as a team. I have been extremely excited seeing how the buy-in to the philosophy of the program has been right out of the gate. Everybody seems to be buying in and the numbers look fantastic.”

As for his part, Vidlak said he’s doing all he can to keep up with his training as he prepares for his upcoming high school graduation while also essentially working full-time in Grants Pass.

“I’m just planning on getting in there my freshman year and just working my butt off, trying to beat out the other guys and hopefully have that starting spot soon,” said Vidlak.

“We’re starting to get a really good up-and-coming class and we have some great kids going already,” he added, “so I think this whole coaching change might just add on with the momentum and we could really take off as a program.”

Have a local story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Cascade Christian senior Gabe Vidlak, shown en route to his third straight state championship in February, is excited about the future of Oregon State's wrestling program under new head coach Chris Pendleton. PHOTO BY ANGIE WALTERS