Gilbert has never had a state champion wrestler. Fernando Villaescusa, an Iowa State signee, is trying to change that.
HUXLEY — He may have a powerful, muscular build with great length and tremendous athleticism.
But for Gilbert senior wrestler Fernando Villaescusa, success on the mat all comes down to how he handles things between the ears.
"Wrestling is 10% wrestling and 90% mental,” he told the Ames Tribune this week. “That’s what I’ve come to know about this sport over these past two years. I need to keep that same mental game every match.”
That approach has served Villaescusa, an Iowa State wrestling signee, well over a decorated high school career.
As a sophomore, he went 31-2 at traditional powerhouse Sunnyside High in South Tucson, Ariz. He moved to Iowa with his family prior to his junior year, with his father Fernando Sr. taking a volunteer coaching position at Iowa State.
Villaescusa enrolled at Gilbert and ended up 38-2 at 182 in his junior year. But he had to settle for third place at state.
That didn't sit well with Villaescusa. At all.
His dad told him to be patient and have faith in himself.
“The biggest growth is not worrying about what other opponents are going to do,” Fernando Sr. said. “It’s just respecting his abilities. Respect for yourself, your hard work and your ethics. ... Everything is going to fall into place.”
Villaescusa's senior season got off to a hot start. That included a 10-7 victory over Dallas Center-Grimes' Connor Pertzsch, currently ranked 10th at 182 in Class 3A.
Things took an unfortunate turn right before Christmas. Villaescusa found out he had both strep throat and a touch of the flu. He had to miss 10 days, including the Jim Kinyon Invitational in Story City.
It took him a little while between the illness and break to get back into a groove. But on Thursday, he proved he was back to top form in a quadrangular dual at Huxley. He showed why IAWrestle.com ranks him the No. 2 wrestler at 182 pounds in Class 2A.
He went 3-0 with victories over two ranked wrestlers in Boone's Jayden Angle and Ballard's Gabe Christensen.
“I’m not going to lie, before the matches even started my heart was beating fast and my legs were shaking,” Villaescusa said. “I was super nervous. But then I started getting positive thoughts in my head and those negative thoughts out. That’s what won me those matches today.”
Villaescusa not only won all of his matches Thursday — he didn't give up a single point. He defeated Angle, ranked ninth in 3A, by major decision, 11-0.
He also pinned Ogden's Jackson Swigert in 1:34 prior to facing off against Christensen. Christensen entered the match ranked right behind Villaescusa at third in 2A with an unblemished 24-0 record, having also pinned Swigert and pulled off a 13-6 victory over Angle earlier in the evening.
Villaescusa wasted little time establishing control against Christensen. He scored a takedown in the early minutes and rode out the rest of the period.
Momentum continued to build for Villaescusa as the match continued. By the time the third period ended, he had earned an impressive 7-0 victory.
“I wasn't wrestling Gabe Christensen or Jayden Angle,” Villaescusa said. “I was just wrestling another person in front of me.”
The ability to dominate on top in both matches bodes well for Villaescusa's future beyond high school.
“I want to keep improving on my takedowns and improving on my top game. I’ve definitely improved on my top game because no one scored on me (Thursday),” Villaescusa said. “I’m definitely going to use it in college. College is all about top and bottom.”
If Villaescusa can keep up how he wrestled Thursday, it's hard to imagine him not seriously contending for a state championship in February.
“It’s being aggressive, pushing the pace and having a hammer-type mentality,” Gilbert head coach Scott Auderer said. “If he has that, no one can beat him. He has a giant toolbox to use. He’s been around the sport his whole life. He has more than enough technique right now and he knows enough in all situations.
"It’s all about how he approaches every match. If he approaches every match like he did tonight, no one in high school is going to beat him.”
The key will be maintaining the discipline to perform at that level every night for the rest of the season ... and beyond.
“We’re focused on one day at a time," Auderer said. "Every practice and every meet that he wrestles, he’s got to continue to do these things and eventually that will lead to his ultimate goal, not just at this level, but the next level in college.”
Before he becomes a Cyclone, Villaescusa would love to make history at Gilbert.
“I want to keep having those positive thoughts and bring home the championship for Gilbert,” Villaescusa said. “I want to be undefeated and Gilbert’s first state champion.”