Cal Poly’s wrestling team’s energy was depleted after a defeat by Oregon State in the Pac-10 wrestling conference championships last month. Still, championship titles are within reach for more Mustangs than ever before.
Sorting out the disparaging aftermath of defeat, Cal Poly is preparing six wrestlers for the final showdown at the NCAA Division I National Championships, scheduled for Mar. 18-20 in Omaha, Neb.
The Mustangs, who placed third in the Pac-10 conference this season and placed second in 2004 and 2006, have been unable to secure a Pac-10 conference championship in recent years. But never has the team produced so many NCAA-eligible athletes in a single season.
“Every year I’ve been head coach, we’ve taken multiple guys,” head coach John Azevedo said. “Three in 2008 and five in 2007. “Last year the Mustangs sent two, Boris Novachkov and Chase Pami, who wrapped up last year’s conference with a 1-2, 5-2 record, respectfully.
“We are working to get these guy’s bodies back feeling good, minds staying sharp, keep them healthy,” Azevedo said.
With less than two weeks to fine-tune, Novachkov — who captured the Pacific-10 Conference championship this year at 133 pounds as a sophomore — will join the others on Mar. 18: his brother Filip Novachkov, Nick Fisher, Chase Pami, Ryan DesRoches and Ryan Smith — who is currently a wildcard, awaiting confirmation Wednesday.
Cal Poly was in first place after a second session of the Pac-10 championship. But Oregon State captured its 18th Pac-10 team championship while Cal Poly finished third.
“It was a rough weekend, a lot of emotions,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the team didn’t warm up enough or didn’t warm up right. He said the consolation matches shook his team up.
“We’ve never experienced this low, but we are trying to get our heads straight and focus on the nationals.”
Azevedo understands the emotional hurdles his men are facing this week.
“This is what you train for all year — 15,000 fans, the big arena, a collegiate crowd. The atmosphere is very electric, intense and fun,” he said.
But that excitement doesn’t always help you focus. You have to be ready, Azevedo said.
Assistant coach Mark Perry said, “As cliché as it is, we got here through hard work and preparation.”
Proper nutrition, ensuring meals are in at the right time and maintaining a healthy routine are difficult challenges for anyone to uphold, “but especially a college athlete. Wrestling is an extremely demanding sport,” Perry said.
Cal Poly will send more than half of the team to nationals — 6 of 10.
“The guys have done a pretty good job,” Perry said. “I’ll say not everyone, that’s why some of the guys are where they want to be and others aren’t.”
Ryan Smith is not where he wants to be, in spite of qualifying for nationals.
A sophomore who has had knee surgery in the last two years, Smith never knows what to expect.
“It’s a difficult situation to stay motivated when there is so much up in the air,” he said.
Until Wednesday, when he finds out if he will be joining his five teammates at the NCAA conference, Smith anxiously waits, not wasting a minute to condition in the event he gets good news.
“I need to keep my head on straight, keep reinforcing myself. I’m going to keep training hard, as if I am going to the nationals,” Smith said.
Identical in weight and height, brothers Boris and Filip Novachkov have always shared a passion for wrestling, especially during matches.
“There’s something about competing together that makes it so much better,” Boris said. “I would say we try harder, supporting each other. When one of us does well, the other one’s gonna do well, too.”
In high school, the two won state-level titles together. They hope to win nationals together, too, Filip said.
Boris, who was sick last week and is taking a break from the mat, said the team came together this year.
“I want to win a lot more this year than I did last year,” Boris said.
The NCAA selection show will take place today at 3 p.m.