When the Pac-10 wrestling championships start today in Davis, Cal Poly will be looking to double, maybe even triple, the number of individuals it sent to the NCAA meet last season.
The Mustangs are also convinced they even have an outside shot at taking the Pac-10 team title after finishing third in the dual season.
If any of the above happens, it would be a significant sign that things have turned around for a Cal Poly program that was sagging through a couple of lean years.
Last season, the Mustangs qualified two individuals for the NCAA Championships, “which was the worst year we’ve had in a while,” Cal Poly head coach John Azevedo said.
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The possibility that the program could realistically advance as many as seven grapplers past the conference meet is significant.“It’s big. It’s definitely big for the program,” Azevedo said, “and for the individuals to at least get there — if we get some we get some young guys there now — it’s going to be big for them in the future.”
Two Mustangs received No. 2 seeds, and three more were slotted third in their weight classes.
The easiest way for each of them to ensure they advance is to win an individual title, something only senior 157-pounder Chase Pami has pulled off before. But that’s not the only route to nationals. Depending on the weight class, Azevedo said, the Pac-10 has earned the right to send anywhere from two to five individuals on automatically, and that’s not including the little wiggle room still remaining for at-large berths.
At the very least, the finalists in each weight class are guaranteed to move on — the only exception being the Pac-10’s single-bid 165-pound weight class.
Pami and junior 141-pounder Filip Novachkov, the other Cal Poly wrestler to receive a second seed, represent the Mustangs’ best two shots at individual titles. Former Paso Robles High standout Mitch Monteiro of Cal State Bakersfield is the top-seeded heavyweight.
Novachkov placed third in the Pac-10 last year and joined Pami at the NCAA meet after Pami won his second straight conference title.
Pami’s biggest rival is top-seeded Adam Hall from Boise State, who has beaten his Cal Poly counterpart every time they’ve faced off except for a thrilling match in the conference finals last season.
Sophomore Boris Novachkov, a 133-pounder and Filip’s younger brother, could make his return to the NCAA’s after he qualified in 2008 with a third-place conference finish. He redshirted last season and received a No. 3 seed this year.
Boise State’s Andrew Hochstrasser, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the Pac-10 at 133 pounds, was left out of the bracket for an unknown reason.
The Mustangs’ other two top-three seeds are a pair of sophomores, 174-pounder Ryan DesRoc-hes and 184-pounder Ryan Smith. Each is looking to make his first trip to the NCAA meet.
But if Cal Poly is to hang onto its outside shot at taking the Pac-10 team title, it could need all five to be in the finals and several upsets to happen along the way.