While most Cal Poly students spent their three weeks of vacation away from the rigors of school, the wrestling team made trips to Nevada and Illinois for tournaments and took on three colleges in a quadrangle meet.
The Mustangs, ranked 19th in the country by Wrestling Report, began with three consecutive wins against Southern Oregon, Cal Baptist and Menlo College in Mott Gym on Dec. 17.
Ryan DesRoches, a junior wrestling at 165-pounds, broke the school record for pins in a season last year with 17, and is on track to top that mark as he upped his season total to 11 with three more pins in less than five minutes of match time.
Against Southern Oregon, Cal Poly won all but two matches and pinned four wrestlers on its way to a 36-9 victory.
Cal Baptist defeated three Mustangs and earned points off forfeit at 197-pounds, but a technical fall (a win by 15 points) by UC Davis transfer Barrett Abel over Bronson Gerl in the second period and a pin by Kelan Bragg, solidified a 31-15 Cal Poly win.
The Mustangs concluded the day with a 30-15 victory over Menlo College without the help of Abel and heavyweight Atticus Disney, who was defeated by Caleb Gerl of Cal Baptist.
Disney’s loss, one of a few tough defeats over break, remains steadfast in his drive toward the NCAA Championship.
“While it’s never fun to lose, I’m thankful I’m suffering these losses now and not in March when it really counts,” Disney said.
Pearce Swerdfeger filled in for Abel at 157-pounds, but performed just as well as the starter, pinning his opponent with time running out in the second period. DesRoches concluded his big day by wasting no time in pinning Adam Obad in just 33 seconds.
Boris Novachkov, a junior who is ranked No. 2 in the nation at 141-pounds, earned a pin over Kyle Wirkuty of Southern Oregon and a forfeit against Cal Baptist and finished his day with a 17-4 victory over Christian Martinez.
The Mustangs traveled with a small squad to Reno where DesRoches led the way with a 2nd place finish, only losing 10-2 to Shane Onufer of Wyoming. In all likelihood, the two will square off again in Mott Gym on Jan. 14 when the Cowboys take on the Mustangs.
Cal Poly’s match against Boise State still looks like it will be the premier duel meet this season, but the Cowboys outpaced the Broncos in Reno to win the tournament, which gives Cal Poly a difficult one-two punch of opponents in mid-January
Ryan Smith, who wrestles at 197 pounds, was pinned by top-seeded Erik Schuth of Ohio in the semifinals, knocking him to the consolation matches where he was pinned again. Smith rebounded in his final match, easily defeating Niko Brown 10-0 to take fifth place.
Abel also took fifth at 157-pounds, but was upset in the second round by Chattanooga’s Dan Waddell in a close 9-6 match. After winning two straight, the fourth seeded Vince Salminen knocked Abel into the 5th/6th place match with 18-5 major decision. Abel’s opponent forfeited the next match.
The team placed ninth while future Mustang opponents Wyoming, Boise State and Cal State Bakersfield took the top three slots.
However, much of Cal Poly’s sub-par performance can be attributed to the fact that the Novachkov brothers, Filip and Boris, did not make the trip to Reno, but came back in a post-Christmas tournament at Northwestern University in Illinois.
In his second tournament appearance of the year, Filip fell twice to Scott Sentes of Central Michigan but rebounded to earn fourth place. The first bout against Sentes ended with a pin in overtime while the second match ended in a 5-1 decision. Filip now boasts a 6-4 record with three losses coming at the hands of Sentes.
Boris cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament with a technical fall and a major decision, then ran into Mike Koehnlein of Nebraska but Boris eked out a 3-1 win.
In what proved to be his final match of the day, Boris earned a reversal in the final period of overtime against Tyler Nauman of Pittsburgh to seal the win. Jimmy Kennedy, the top seeded 141-pounder, was injured in his semifinal match and forfeited the match, giving Boris, who is 17-1, the title. His only loss was a 3-2 decision in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational to the top ranked wrestler, Kellen Russell of Michigan.
“I’m excited about Boris this year,” Filip said. “It’s good to see him succeed and this definitely drives me more.”
That drive has propelled the brothers to a pair of national rankings as Filip was ninth in the latest poll.
Barrett Abel, who was eliminated in the fourth round, summed up the team performance at the Midlands tournament as frustrating.
“As a team we had a few bright spots and a few low spots, but personally I wasn’t very happy with my own performance,” Abel said. “However, I’m not discouraged and my goals for the season haven’t changed.”
The Mustangs placed 11th behind a slew of Big-12 teams as key Pac-10 opponents like Boise State and Oregon State were not in attendance.
“We are still looking to end the season with a room full of Pac-10 champions, NCAA All-Americans and National Champions,” Abel said.
Going into conference play, few Mustang wrestlers have faced key opponents in the eight team wrestling conference that is the Pac-10, but will have the opportunity to test their progress against Boise State, a perennial national powerhouse, on Jan. 21 in Idaho.
Disney is optimistic as he emphasized the improvement he saw in the team over break, even though they did not perform to their expectations at times.
“The team has improved over break, our biggest improvements coming mentally,” Disney said. “I don’t think anyone is where they want to be just yet, but I know we are coming together more as a team and we want to help each other reach our goals. The best way to help the team is to help yourself.”
Filip agreed with Disney, a wrestler Filip is expecting to pick up key points in critical duel meets to come.
“Although we have experienced some disappointing loses over the last few months as individuals, the end year goals never change, at least in my mind,” Filip said.
The Mustangs enjoy a two week break before their next match, a non-conference duel against No. 26 Wyoming in Mott Gym on Jan. 14. The Cowboys are the only ranked opponent the team will face at home this year, and one of two home matches left on their schedule.
“Coaches say that this is the fun part of the season, and I believe that because from here on we compete as a team and will try to win every single duel as a team,” Filip said.