Cal Poly men’s wrestling team focuses on winning as a team rather than winning individual titles.
After coming close to the Pac-10 Conference Championship the past two years, the Mustangs (8-4, 5-2 Pac-10) look to complete the final step of their season goal — winning a conference championship.
The team has been ranked as one of the top 20 teams in the nation for various weeks this season. Currently three Mustangs are nationally ranked. Assistant coach Mark Perry said that the team feels no outside pressure and remains focused as the competition nears.
“We are a program that is sneaking up on people because we have been under the radar. We have never won the Pac-10 championship and (we) can make history in the next eight days,” Perry said.
Head coach John Azevedo said he can empathize with his players’ mentality. As a member of the Olympic 1980 freestyle wrestling team, he said he can understand their emotions just before a championship match. He plans to support his team no matter the outcome of the Pac-10 championship.
“It is way harder to be a coach then a competitor. As a player, you tend to focus on yourself and your own personal wins. Now as a coach, every win and every loss you’re feeling it and it is intense,”Azevedo said.
The mentality of the team also changed this season as they focused on dual meets building up to the championship. They have helped the wrestlers build the confidence they need before getting on the mat, Azevedo said. The Mustangs’ win against then No.8 Missouri was monumental for the team.
“Beating Missouri set the tone for the season; we were in their place and beating them. It was a huge team binding moment for the team especially when you win when it seems like you’re not supposed to,” Azevedo said.
The Missouri meet made the team feel like a family, said senior Chase Pami, who is ranked No. 11 in the nation.
Looking back at his senior year, Pami said he is proud to have been a part of the program and a team of talented wrestlers. Pami sat out and struggled in some of his early matches due to broken ribs, but that time on the sidelines let him support his teammates and reflect on his own career, he said.
“I’ve seen the program grow, and there were a lot of expectations. Going into this year as a team was exciting to see the program grow and it was just the coolest thing at looking back at what happened,” Pami said.
As an NCAA All-American and a two-time Pac-10 champion, Pami said that his performance during the upcoming championship helped the team garner more attention to gather funds to endow the program.
“I want to be the first national champion that the coach has had within the past several years. By doing that you can really help the program as a whole,” Pami said.
Heading back to the Pac-10 Championship is bittersweet for Cal Poly junior Boris Novachkov who placed third in the individual portion of the competition last year and is now ranked eighth in the country.
“I’ve always been competitive. I’ve been working hard for 10 years,” Novachkov said. “I took third last time and now want to win it. You can always improve, and now I feel like this is the time.”
Cal Poly will compete in the Pac-10 Conference Championship this weekend at UC Davis.