Battling for its piece of the national pie as well as local consumer dollars, the Cal Poly wrestling team was only lukewarm about its 29-9 dual match win over visiting North Dakota State on Saturday.
Part of the bittersweet taste for the Mustangs (4-2), ranked as high as 14th in one national poll, has to do with a new philosophical shift toward competing for an NCAA team championship.
The other part was fueled by a desire to put on an inspiring show for the 757 fans at Mott Gym as the program makes a push to become more financially self-sustaining.
“With the economy in the state, they’re talking about cutting programs” at Cal State Bakersfield, Cal Poly head coach John Azevedo said. “Our administration, definitely they don’t want to cut programs, but we want to endow the program just to let people know that we want to secure the future of Cal Poly wrestling. Not that they want to drop us, but we want to be proactive.”
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The meet featured several free prize giveaways to fire up the crowd, and Azevedo made a passionate plea for financial support of the new endowment, which is being backed by a booster’s pledge to match any dollar amount raised up to $100,000.
Being the first home dual of the season, the emphasis was on making a good first impression on new fans, and Cal Poly was dominant.
Led by Ryan Smith’s 2-minute, 34-second pin at 197 pounds and Chase Pami’s technical fall at 157, the Mustangs overcame an early 3-0 deficit, won the next four matches and lost just three times all night.
Smith’s big win, during which he was leading 14-3 before the pin, and Jim Powers’ 8-3 victory at 285 pounds were more than enough to put away the Bison (3-4) in the last two matches of the night.
Filip Novachkov (16-4), a 141-pounder who has beaten eight grapplers in the top 20 and is ranked as high as third in one national poll, got out to an 8-1 lead against his opponent, Ryan Adams.
But Adams (19-5) got back within 8-6 in the third period before Novachkov was able to escape with a three-point victory.
Despite the win, there was one downer.
Sophomore Ryan DesRoaches, the team leader with 14 pins on the season, had a 12-3 win at 174 pounds but came away disappointed after notching two three-point near-falls in the first two periods and going scoreless in the third.
“Even If I didn’t get the pin, I should have won by more points,” DesRoaches said. “I need to focus more, and if this would have been a tougher guy, I would have lost. I want to improve every match, not just win.
“By wrestling with a mentality of dominating every time, it just makes me that much tougher against tougher opponents.”
Last season, Cal Poly might have been a little more satisfied with a win like the one DesRoaches (22-6) had, but first-year assistant coach Mark Perry — a former two-time individual national champion and part of a team national championship as a competitor at Iowa, is demanding the Mustangs remain unsatisfied.
Perry has instilled more of a team aspect and says he believes Cal Poly can be a player in the team title hunt in the Pac-10, as well as nationally.
“We’re 4-2, we’ve lost to a number two or three team in the country in a close match,” Perry said. “We’re not that far. We’re getting closer. We don’t have room for error when competing at the national level, competing for a national championship, because we’re trying to come out of nowhere really.”
Even Pami (19-4) said he could have done better in his 16-3 win over North Dakota State’s Vince Salminen.
The All-American from Las Vegas, currently ranked as high as ninth, has already seen improvement under Perry.
Pami wrangled Salminen into a near-fall in the final seconds of the first and third period. The moves represented five points Pami might not have gone for against an overmatched opponent in the past.
“I don’t think so, and I think that’s the thing,” Pami said. “You just keep wrestling through a period. Even if there’s 10 seconds left, you just keep looking for points no matter what. We want to be dominant. We want to get takedowns, and we want to get the near-falls, and ultimately, the whole match we want to be on top of the other guy, getting the offense going.”