Filip Novachkov never felt comfortable at 133 pounds.
Dropping down a weight class to make way for his brother Boris at 141, Filip missed the Cal Poly wrestling team’s first couple of tournaments because he couldn’t cut weight efficiently enough.
Though ranked 14th at 133, Novachkov constantly felt weak, lost to less heralded opponents and struggled to a 7-6 record — not what he imagined for his senior season.
Then came an unorthodox decision to jump himself up two weight classes less than a month before the Pac-10 Championships. “I just felt that I was cutting way too much weight and I was losing most of my muscle,” Novachkov said. “I just felt weak. Now it’s up to lifting weights and training smart, putting weight on and getting as strong as those guys.”
Said Mustangs co-head coach John Azevedo: “You don’t see that done very often, but he was just having a very hard time, and if you can’t do it in your mind and in your heart, why do it? It’s torture. You’re not going to be able to compete well.”
It’s unclear whether the move will pay off with a berth in the NCAA Championships, but Novachkov was much more comfortable Friday, and he did pick up a victory.
Novachkov rallied to win his debut match in overtime after moving up to 149 pounds, Ryan Smith scored a memorable sudden-death upset over a familiar foe and No. 22 Cal Poly (7-1, 3-1 Pac-10) ran away with a 23-12 dual victory over visiting Cal State Bakersfield at Mott Gym.
“I felt a little small tonight, but as far as wrestling, I thought I wrestled well the whole match,” Novachkov said. “I made two mistakes that almost cost me the match, but I feel like from now on I’ll be able to come back and push through the match, be able to wrestle the whole match.”
Novachkov needed every bit of his endurance to pull out 12-10 decision over the Roadrunners’ Jose Mendoza (16-9).
Novachkov controlled each of the first two periods but suffered reversals at the tail end of each one and went into the third trailing 8-5. He needed a takedown at the buzzer to force overtime.
“The hardest part is just that the kids are going to be bigger than him,” Azevedo said. “Bottom line, he just has to use his speed and quickness, and he’s a great wrestler, so he should do well.
“We’re hoping he can go to NCAAs and be an All-American.”
Boris Novachkov is well on his way to accomplishing those goals in his own right. Ranked fourth in the country by InterMat, he improved to 21-1 with a 19-4 technical fall at 5:45 against Cal State Bakersfield freshman Jose Mendoza (16-9).
It was part of a 5-1 start to the dual by the Mustangs that helped them build a 20-3 lead.
Elsewhere, Cal Poly 157-pound senior Barrett Abel (20-8) pinned Anthony Box in 51 seconds, and the Mustangs also got a pair of 5-2 decisions from freshman Brittain Longmire (12-7) at 125 pounds and junior Ryan DesRoches (27-5), who came into the match ranked 16th at 165.
Smith (13-5) clinched the victory at 197 pounds when he outlasted No. 17 Riley Orozco (20-7), the defending Pac-10 champion who had defeated Smith in all four of their previous meetings.
Smith used a front headlock to spin behind Orozco in the final seconds of the first period, then slammed Orozco down for another takedown while toeing the boundary in the second period.
A one-point stalling penalty against Smith in the third helped Orozco tie it at 7, but Smith went back to the front headlock for the final points in a 9-7 win, erupting with emotion after the match and bowing before the crowd of 907 at Mott Gym.
“This is definitely the most gratifying college upset that I’ve had,” Smith said, “just something that made me feel good and just a proud moment for myself because I’ve lost to him so many times. I feel in my heart that I’m a better wrestler, and I shouldn’t lose to him.
“It’s kind of become a rivalry because some of them have been close and some of them haven’t been close.”