It’s not usual for a team to lose twice in a week and climb the national rankings, but that’s exactly the way the Cal Poly wrestling team heads into its home debut against North Dakota State today at 5 p.m. at Mott Gym.
Chalk it up to the contributions of three superstars — Chase Pami and brothers Filip and Boris Novachkov — as well as the potential for the Mustangs (3-2) to send more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships than they have in the past two seasons combined.
Cal Poly, ranked as high as No. 14 and anywhere between 16 and 21 by three more polls, fell 21-13 to No. 4 Oklahoma State on Sunday, one day before falling 27-13 to No. 10 Oklahoma.
Pami and the Novachkovs, however, went 6-0. Boris notched a win at 133 pounds over the Cowboys’ Jamal Parks, who was ranked third in the nation at the time. In the same meet, Filip gave Jordan Oliver, the fifth-ranked wrester at 141 pounds, a 6-0 loss.
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Voters “see the potential of both Novachkovs, beating higher-ranked wrestlers against Oklahoma State,” Mustangs head coach John Azevedo said. “They see potential NCAA finalists, All-Americans. We have three guys ranked in the top eight. They see those three guys that could score big points.”
The No. 14 ranking is the highest for Cal Poly since finishing 16th in 2004, Azevedo said. As individuals, Filip Novachkov (15-4) is ranked as high as third in the nation as a junior. Pami (18-4), an All-American after finishing seventh at least season’s NCAA Championships is ranked as high as ninth at 157 pounds as a senior.
The biggest surprise might be Boris Novachkov (18-1), a sophomore who redshirted last season.
He said it was hard watching from the sideline last season while his older brother was an NCAA qualifier.
Naturally around 148 pounds, Boris Novachkov has been cutting weight so that both brothers can get into the lineup without competing for the same spot.
“We’ve always competed against each other,” Boris said. “That’s what got us better. He’s probably my best opponent. He competes against me and it’s been helpful.
“That’s what got me motivated to get down to weight. I’m not going to lose all that weight for nothing.”
The team has also gotten a jolt from first-year Cal Poly assistant coach Mark Perry, a former two-time national champion at 165 pounds and a one-time All-American at Iowa, where he was also part of an NCAA team championship.
Perry has emphasized team success in a highly individualistic sport, and it’s part of the reason, Azevedo said, that four or five other Cal Poly wrestlers are fighting to become first-time NCAA qualifiers.
“Mark’s a very good team motivator as far as getting individuals on a team to buy in,” Pami said. “What he says, what he brings, you sit there and you hear it and say, ‘I want to do what he’s saying.’ It’s almost like you can’t help it because one guy’s buying in and another guy’s buying in, and if I don’t buy in, I’m going to be left behind.”
Pami, a three-time NCAA qualifier, is thinking more about the team than he has in the past. Whereas previously, the one and only focus was on winning an individual title, now he’s thinking about scoring and how it affects the team.
The Mustangs are hoping that shift can help them compete for a Pac-10 title and a top-10 NCAA finish.
“For that to happen, I’m going to have to win a Pac-10 title, and I’m going to have to win a national title,” Pami said. “I need to be a team leader, but I also need to get bonus points when the times comes: Pins, techs, major decisions, not just winning by two or three.”
After today’s duel with North Dakota State, Cal Poly will host duels against No. 5 Boise State and tough conference rivals Arizona State and Oregon State later this month and in early February.