Chad Mendes may have graduated, but the Cal Poly wrestling team is ready for a new season, one in which team unity will be stressed in the wake of the departure of the All-American 141-pounder who lost just once last year.
“We’ve been becoming more of a team with this group,” Mustangs head coach John Azevedo said. “We really have more of a team mentality. The guys are looking out for each other; they’re training together harder. They’re more focused as a team.”
The Mustangs went 5-8 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-10 Conference last year.
“The team is not where we want to be yet, but we’re in a good place,” said junior Chase Pami, the Pac-10 champion at 157 last year. “We’re a little under the radar. People don’t expect us to do a whole lot, especially in the Pac-10. But when the end of the year comes, we’re going to surprise people.”
Pami himself said he’s felt some extra expectations because of Mendes’ season, but he wants to use it as a positive.
“The pressure has been there a little bit, but I think he was so successful because he was so relaxed,” Pami said. “He just enjoyed what he was doing. I’m ready and willing to fill those shoes. Chad went undefeated last year and there’s no reason why I can’t go undefeated. He left a great legacy. It was very encouraging to see that someone from Cal Poly can do that.”
After going 0-2 at the NCAA Championships last year, Pami is even more “determined and focused” to “have a great year, especially at the end when it counts,” Azevedo said.
Another key contributor for the Mustangs could be 133-pound sophomore Filip Novachkov, who went 16-10 overall last season.
“We know he has the ability to go out and do some great things,” Azevedo said.
Pami said that with improved consistency, Novachkov could possibly win a Pac-10 title and be an All-American.
Micah Ferguson, at 125, and Eric Maldonado, at 149, are other returning starters. Both finished fifth in their respective classes as sophomores at the conference championships.
Staying away from the hype of nationals at the end of the season should be an objective for the team right now, Pami said.
“The positive changes and keeping a positive mindset throughout the year are going to put us in a place where we want to be come Pac-10 and come nationals,” he said.
From 174 to heavyweight, Cal Poly is expected to rely heavily on freshmen.
They looked “awesome” at the Green and Gold intrasquad scrimmage Nov. 5, Azevedo said.
One Azevedo is particularly excited about is 174-pounder Ryan DesRoches, a three-time Washington state champion.
“We’re excited about him as a competitor and being a catalyst for the upper weights,” Azevedo said.
The Mustangs officially open the season by hosting Menlo College and San Francisco State at 11 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Saturday.
“We compete against them almost every year and they’re very competitive,” Azevedo said. “They go hard, and for them, it definitely would be a feather in their cap to come and beat a Cal Poly guy or to beat us as a team. They come fired up and we’re expecting a battle.”
Setting the tone early will be especially important with such a young group, Pami said.
“There’s something special going on,” he added. “I’m not sure exactly what it’s going to look like or how it’s going to happen, but when it comes to the end of the year, it’s going to be amazing to see where we are as individuals and as a team.”