A year after falling just short, Iowa State wrestler Austin Gomez eyes Junior World Team spot
AMES, Ia. — Almost one year later, the loss still eats at Austin Gomez.
During last year’s Junior World Team wrestling trials, Gomez and Minnesota star Mitch McKee competed in a grueling best-of-three set for the world team spot at 60 kilograms (roughly 132 pounds). The series came down to a winner-take-all bout inside the University of Nebraska’s Bob Devaney Center.
Gomez opened the third contest with a screw-lock lateral-drop to lead 5-2 in the first period, but McKee leveled the match at the break. In the second period, McKee added a passivity point for a 6-5 lead, but Gomez nearly scored the winning takedown in the final seconds. The official didn’t award the two points and upheld the call after a review.
McKee won the spot, and ultimately reached the finals a few months later at the Junior World Championships in Finland. Gomez seethed from afar. That should’ve been him, he thought.
“Too much,” said Gomez, a redshirt freshman at Iowa State, when asked how much he thought about last year’s world team trials result. “I was a takedown away from being on the world team and being that much closer to being a world champion.
“In the practice room, when I’m training — that’s when I think about it most. It helps me get through those hard times in practice. I want to right a wrong.”
This coming weekend, Gomez will get that opportunity. The 2018 Junior World Team Trials are set for May 18-20 at the RCTC Regional Sports Center in Rochester, Minnesota, and Iowa State’s heralded lightweight enters as a prohibitive favorite to make the team.
Last year, Gomez had to win three matches in the challenge tournament before meeting McKee in the finals. This year, Gomez already has a spot in the best-of-three finals by virtue of winning the UWW Junior freestyle national title in Las Vegas last month.
“Definitely a big relief,” Gomez said. “Because if you lose in the challenge tournament, it takes away your chance of being a world champion. But the first part is done. I have to win two matches, and that’s the next step to being a world champion.”
The Carol Stream, Illinois, native has held these lofty aspirations ever since he got a taste of international competition back in 2013. That year, he made the Cadet World Team and competed in the world championships in Serbia. He went 0-2 and didn’t score a point.
He vowed then to not only return to the world stage, but to win a world title as well.
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Gomez has been in pursuit of that goal ever since. The Glenbard North product joined Iowa State during Kevin Jackson’s final years as coach. He initially wanted out when Jackson left, but Kevin Dresser convinced him to stay and become a leader in the Cyclones’ rebuild.
“He has bought into the coaches,” Iowa State associate head coach Mike Zadick said. “You know when what you say to the kid resonates and they just go do it. He’s one where you don’t have to say a whole lot. That’s why you see the success he has.
“The other part is that he’s just motivated to do great, great things. You know it by the way he comes in and out of the room every day. The weight room, his academics, his lifestyle — everything he does is geared toward success.”
That mentality has been on display ever since Gomez arrived in Ames. He redshirted this past season, going 8-0 with five technical falls at 133 pounds — but only after coming back from a concussion. Once the season ended, he transitioned to freestyle and took aim at the world team.
Standing outside the Harold Nichols Wrestling Room last week, Gomez discussed the growth he’s made this past when Dresser emerged from the room. He mumbled, “Trained killer, trained killer,” causing Gomez to smile — because, well, there’s some truth to that.
Last month, Gomez stormed to a junior national title at 61 kilograms (134 pounds). He went 6-0 and outscored his opponents 68-16. He didn’t allow a point until the semifinals, where he rallied from an 8-2 deficit to win 14-12. In the finals, he won thanks to a first-period technical fall.
“Just super focused,” Dresser said of Gomez. “Very calculated. He puts himself in those big matches, and I think he wrestles them in his head. He has something to draw from last year’s loss. Mentally, I can see him making tweaks, and then he comes to practice and backs it up.”
Gomez figures to be the future for Iowa State at 133 pounds, an immediate All-American threat at what might very well be one of the country’s deepest weights next season. He wants to add his name to the Cyclones’ long list of NCAA champions before he leaves.
But first, he wants to make the Junior World Team and win a world title. Two wins in Rochester will push him one step closer to that goal — and, in his mind, right last year's wrong.
“This redshirt year was a building year,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself and who I am. I feel like I got mentally tougher and smarter with my wrestling. It’s been a good year.
“I feel like I’m definitely getting closer to being a world champion.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.