On and Off the Mat with Cal-Poly's Filip Novachkov

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By Brian Price

Heading into Sunday's Pac-10 wrestling championship, Cal-Poly wrestling head coach John Azevedo and senior Filip Novachkov have a common goal: "We want to go out on top," says Novachkov.

Time is ticking for the head coach, who has announced this will be his final season with the Mustangs, and for the senior, who will have one last shot to win a gold medal in the Pac-10 championship.

Novachkov is optimistic despite working through a 2011 season that has arguably been the most challenging of his career. A midseason change in weight class from 133 to 149-pounds was a difficult transition, but one that seems to be paying dividends for the entire squad, especially his younger brother, Boris, currently a junior.

Before Boris came to Cal-Poly, Novachkov was wrestling at 141-pounds, but moved down to 133-pounds so Boris could wrestle at the 141-weight class.

This season, Filip compiled an uneven record of 9-6 (although each of those loses came against top-ranked opponents).

"To be honest I wanted to [wrestle] at 149-pounds at the beginning of the year," he says. "But we already had two guys at 149."

However, both of those 149-pound grapplers left the team for undisclosed reasons. That created an opening for Novachkov to make the 16-pound jump to his preferred weight class—in four days. Novachkov discussed how he was able to effectively pack on the pounds.

"We had Cal-State on [January 28] and I decided to move up on January 24. I hit the weight room for hours every night and built my muscle back up, hydrating, consuming protein and repeating. I turned all the lean muscle I had at the start of the season into bulk. I had always struggled to keep my weight down, so once I knew I could move up, I didn't look back."

This was all on top of regular practice, but it paid off.

Now heading into the Pac-10 Championship, Novachkov has won every match at 149-pounds, building his record to 15-6. Boris, still at 141-pounds., has also compiled an impressive record of 24-1, which includes a 3-1 win over Oklahoma's Zack Bailey, then the top wrestler in the country. Together these brothers have helped anchor a team that is looking to make some noise this coming championship weekend.

"With each match [at 149 pounds] I've been building my confidence and gotten used to my body. I feel that [entering] the championship on Sunday I'll have the experience I need to excel," says Novachkov.

Overall, it's just another chapter in a life of transitions for the Bulgarian-born grappler.

Novachkov came to the United States with his family after his mother won a lottery for a green card package nearly seven years ago.

Once in the U.S., they settled into Sunnyvale, Calif., and both brothers continued wrestling at Fremont High School.

Luckily, there was also a middle-school student who spoke Bulgarian and English. He came to practices to translate for Novachkov and his brother in the early days after they arrived in the US.

"We wouldn't let that kid leave our sides for a couple of months," laughs Novachkov.

As time went on, he became more comfortable in his new setting and went on to earn a 4.0 GPA throughout his high school career. He became a California state champion wrestler in 2006 as a senior.

The hard work and talent got Cal-Poly's attention.

"Cal-Poly offered me a scholarship [as a high school junior] and I just went for it," says Novachkov. "Getting a scholarship to wrestle in college was my dream and now it was sitting right in front of me. It was the only school I visited, and would be the only school I'd need to visit. I just went for it."

As an underclassman, Novachkov's philosophy was "to wrestle guys in practice who are going to be a challenge. I wanted to get better and learn-- which meant getting my butt whooped in practice every day."

Now, as a senior, Novachkov feels he is a big brother to not just Boris, but to the entire team. "As an underclassman, I wanted the butt-whoopings. Now I hand them out to the younger guys. They'll thank me."

Novachkov may return to Cal-Poly next season as a coach, where he'll join Mark Perry, a two-time NCAA champion at Iowa, who was promoted to co-head coach and will take the reigns next season. With Boris becoming a senior it seems as if the Cal-poly wrestling program will continue to remain in good hands.

Until then there's still work to be done.

"I want to win a national title," says Novachkov, referring to the NCAA championship in Philadelphia on March 1. "That was my goal from day one."

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