Ryan DesRoches had a perfectly good reason to be distracted last school year.
The Cal Poly grappler and aspiring medical doctor had not only classes and wrestling to think about but also missed his fiancée, Kaitie.
Lifelong childhood friends whose relationship only blossomed into romance once they reached college, the couple was suddenly split up just when Ryan and Kaitie realized they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Ryan was in San Luis Obispo, and Katie remained at school in their native Washington.
“I don’t think it hindered me at all,” DesRoches said, “but maybe I wasn’t as excited to be in California as in Washington. This was more like a job instead of like a passion.”
The couple married a month before DesRoches’ 21st birthday in August, has been living together this year, and along with a shift in weight class, that resolution has been one of the key ingredients to a breakthrough season for the junior 165-pounder.
DesRoches receives one of his biggest tests of the year when he faces sixth-ranked Shane Onufer of Wyoming as the Mustangs (4-0) host the No. 25 Cowboys in their premier home dual meet of the season at 6:30 tonight.
Unlike he might have last season, DesRoches has been fully focused on facing Onufer (17-0) since the losing a 10-2 major decision to the Wyoming grappler in the finals of the Reno Tournament of Champions last month.
“It makes a big difference not having to worry about the long-distance thing,” DesRoches said. “And it maybe helped me be more focused on wrestling, not feel like I’m torn between Washington and here as much.”
The improved focus coupled with his move down a weight class has Des Roches (24-4) enjoying his most successful collegiate season.
Ranked No. 17 by InterMat, he has seven more wins than his next closest teammate, and with a team-high 13 pinfall victories, DesRoches is just four shy of a 42-year-old program record for falls in a season that he also tied last season.
Going for the pin can sometimes be a double-edged sword.
“A lot of times, it’s my weakness where I kind of go too hard and get taken down because I lose my focus or give up points where I shouldn’t give up because I’m not staying composed,” DesRoches said.
“It’s just finding a balance between working hard in the right positions and staying where I’m strong, being aggressive in the places I need to be.”
He was 34-10 a year ago and went 0-2 in the NCAA Championships, which was already a huge leap from the 16-13 record he posted as a true freshman in 2008-09. Knocking on the door to the top 10 after starting the season with an 11-0 record, DesRoches is looking to eventually make the jump into being one of the elite grapplers in the country.
“He’s gone from a .500 wrestler to 24-4,” Cal Poly co-head coach Mark Perry said. “He’s made a night-and-day shift, but there’s still a lot of work to do to get to where he wants to be. There’s still a lot of development to happen, but with his attitude and his passion, his chances are much higher.”
Said DesRoches: “If I was there, then I wouldn’t lose. I’ve got to pick it up, and I have a big match this week against a guy I lost to.”
After suffering his first loss of the season to No. 4 Justin Kerber of Cornell in the Las Vegas Invitational in early December, Des Roches went on a second 11-match winning streak that ended with the loss to Wyoming’s Onufer.
Since then, DesRoches is 2-2 with a loss to No. 2 Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska at the Midlands Championships. It could be fitting for him to get back on track with a better showing against Onufer, whose earlier eight-point victory over DesRoches was a crushing surprise.
“Last time, he got majored by this guy,” Perry said, “but he probably wrestled the worst match he’s wrestled in two years since I’ve been here. But we know he’s right there with that kid.
“After that loss, he was heartbroken. Emotionally, you could see it. He was hurt. He was crying. It was something that was frustrating for him. He thought he was going to win that match and he went in and basically did everything he could do wrong.”
If the Mustangs are to remain undefeated in duals, that outcome is going to have to change, and Cal Poly’s other dominant wrestlers are going to have to score big points for the team.
Junior 141-pounder Boris Novachkov, ranked as high as second in the country and slotted at No. 4 by InterMat, will be looking for a decisive win as will his brother Filip, a senior at 133 pounds who’s 6-4 and finished fourth at the Midlands Championships.
Cal Poly is unranked as a team by InterMat, but other publications have placed the Mustangs just below Wyoming in their rankings.
“On paper, they might be a little more favored,” Perry said. “But we know if we go in and battle and we fight and beat them on will, then we can win this dual meet.”