RJ Pena didn’t have the training partners in high school like he does now at Oregon State.
Pena was among the top wrestlers in the country coming out of Sprague High in Salem.
To get in a good workout, it was either practice against a teammate a couple weight divisions above his own or take on two wrestlers at once.
At Oregon State, Pena and fellow senior Scott Sakaguchi don’t have to look far.
The all-Americans — Pena at 157 pounds and Sakaguchi at 149 — credit each other as regular practice partners for what they’ve accomplished.
“We battle hard,” Pena said. “We’ve wrestled each other for five years so we kind of know what each other does. But we push each other to get better every day.”
For Sakaguchi, out of Clovis, Calif., his high school practice partners were so inferior that he had to come up with daily goals — like 100 takedowns — to keep it interesting.
Takedowns come with far less frequency against Pena, but Sakaguchi doesn’t mind.
Pena, and other elite-level teammates at OSU, are those Sakaguchi points to for his success.
“It’s not possible without guys like that,” Sakaguchi said. “Look at any team. Usually if there’s one good guy, he’s usually surrounded by another good guy around his weight. You know that they’ve got good workout partners.”
Sakaguchi knew of Pena before he got to Corvallis. Realizing he would have a training partner like that was a big selling point in his recruitment, Sakaguchi said.
It might be just practice, but the workouts are performed at 100 percent.
“That’s what you need,” Sakaguchi says.
Pena and Sakaguchi don’t take it easy on each other or anybody else in the room because they’re teammates. There’s no point.
They bring the intensity and go hard in everything they do. There’s no other way.
“The good guys make each other better. That’s sometimes not fun because you might go in there and have a bad practice and he might beat you up. The next time you might beat him up,” Beavers coach Jim Zalesky said. “It keeps you challenged. It keeps you ready for practice.”
Zalesky says OSU junior Joe Latham is one current Beaver who has benefitted from taking on Pena and Sakaguchi in recent years.
The difficult matchups in practice have helped Latham reach the team’s No. 1 spot at 174 this season.
Competing against the same opponent so many times — as Pena and Sakaguchi have since they arrived at OSU in 2009 — can get old.
That’s when they mix it up and try different tactics, knowing they’re helping their teammate prepare for opponents’ varying styles.
Like their teammates, they regularly switch partners. They practice against others up and down the roster, often spanning three or four weight classes.
“You need younger guys that are hungry to take your spot so you don’t lose that drive. So I try and wrestle those guys, too,” Sakaguchi said.
The collegiate season has passed the midway point. The Pac-12 Conference championship meet is less than two months away.
Solid efforts from a workout partner become more and more important as the postseason draws closer.
That’s where Pena and Sakaguchi know they have no worries as long as the other is on the mat.
“This is the dog days right now. If you’ve got partners that are slacking ... you have to find someone that’s going to push you. It’s crucial,” Sakaguchi said.