Inspired by the death of his younger brother, Iowa State’s Austin Gomez makes Junior World Team
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Austin Gomez’s family sat in the front row here inside the Rochester Regional Sports Center, cheering him on in the finals of the UWW Junior World Team Trials. Sometimes they coached, sometimes they cheered, always they were encouraging.
On the front of his singlet, the word “GOMEZ” was displayed in large, white letters. On the back was the name “Santiago.” It was Gomez’s way of honoring his younger brother, who died in 2009 at just 14 weeks old.
“He’s my motivation every day,” Gomez said. “That’s why I get up in the morning and do those extra workouts, because of him. Everything I do is for the big man upstairs, and for my baby brother, Santiago.”
On Saturday, Gomez added another sterling accolade to his résumé by qualifying for the men’s freestyle Junior world team. He beat Cornell recruit Vitali Arujau twice to become the United States’ representative at 61 kilograms (roughly 134 pounds), and will compete at the Junior World Championships, set for September 17-23 in Trnava, Slovakia.
Saturday was another example why Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser is excited about adding Gomez to the Cyclones’ starting lineup next year. He figures to be an immediate All-American threat at 133 pounds.
“Gomez is impressive all the time,” Dresser said prior to the trials. “Just with the way he approaches the sport. He’s consistent. He gets it across the board, from everything to his personal life to his academics to his wrestling — everything.
“Wrestling has always been important to him.”
And so, too, is his family. Gomez has four siblings, and received a fifth in on April 3, 2009, when Santiago was born. Fourteen weeks later, he passed away at home. Gomez was just 11 years old. It was hard then, he said, and remains hard all these years later.
Not long after Santiago passed, Gomez got the idea of putting his name on his singlets, to have him nearby at all times. The two have seen a lot of success together. Gomez won three state titles at Glenbard North High School (Illinois). He made the 2013 Cadet freestyle world team, and won the Junior freestyle national title in 2016.
“I have to give all my credit to him,” Gomez said. “Him and God, I know they’re watching over me. They want me to do well.”
Saturday’s best-of-three final was a familiar situation for Gomez. Just last year, he was in the exact same spot, but fell two matches to one to Minnesota’s Mitch McKee. McKee went on to win a world silver medal, part of the United States’ Junior world team title.
In the first match, Gomez was reliving that nightmare. He trailed Arujau, 8-0, after the first period of the first match. Arujau is credentialed, a 2016 Cadet world bronze medalist, but after a talk with Iowa State coaches Mike Zadick and Derek St. John, Gomez stormed back.
The second period included Gomez scoring 11 unanswered points. He opened the outburst with an explosive four-pointer on the edge that completely shifted the tone of the match. Another push-out, takedown and four-pointer gave Gomez an 11-8 win in a first-match victory.
“During the break, I told myself, 'I can’t let this happen again,'” Gomez said. “I don’t want to lose the first match and have to go all three. I told myself it couldn’t happen, and that it was time to go.
“I was under the gun — that’s what we say in practice. You have to score points when you’re under the gun, and that’s what I did.”
The second match, Gomez blew through Arujau for a 15-4 technical-fall victory. Down 2-0 early, he ripped off nine straight points to end the first, then, with a 11-4 lead, hit another four-pointer on the edge in the second to win the second match and the team spot.
Gomez immediately ran toward his family afterward. He hugged his parents and celebrated, and in a small moment of reflection, he smiled and talked about Santiago. Gomez said he’ll be with him in Slovakia when he chases a Junior world title in September.
“I prayed before both of my matches, and just asked him and God to look over me,” Gomez said, “and that’s what they did.”
Rachel Watters wins trials tournament, advances to Final X: Rachel Watters, a Ballard alum, won both of her matches in the Senior women’s freestyle world team trials challenge tournament on Saturday. She beat Hannah Gladden, 11-1, then beat her again, 10-3.
In doing so, Watters advanced to Final X in State College, Pennsylvania, where she’ll wrestle Erin Clodgo in a best-of-three format for the 72-kilogram spot on the Senior women’s freestyle world team. The two met at the U.S. Open last month, where Clodgo won, 6-5.
“Pretty good, overall,” Watters said of her performance on Saturday. “I struggled a little bit finding my offense, so I felt a little out of the zone. I think it may have been a little bit not wrestling yesterday, and still getting used to the two-day weigh-in.
“I definitely need to work on getting to my offense, but overall, I’m glad it ended how it did.”
Gremmel falls to Gable: Iowa State heavyweight Gannon Gremmel also competed in Saturday’s best-of-three finals at the UWW Junior World Team Trials. Gremmel, wrestling at 125 kilograms, did not have the same success Gomez had.
Gremmel lost both of his matches to Gable Steveson, a Minnesota signee and the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2018 class. Steveson won both matches by technical fall, and in doing so, made the Junior world team that will compete in Slovakia.
Gadson advances, other Seniors go down early
- Former Iowa State wrestler Kyven Gadson advanced to Sunday’s best-of-three final at 97 kilograms, where he’ll face Austin Schafer, a former Oklahoma State standout. Gadson won twice on Saturday to advance — he pinned former Northern Iowa wrestler Blaize Cabell, then beat former Virginia Tech star Ty Walz, 10-0.
- Former Grand View star Brandon Wright was also in that 65-kilogram bracket, but fell to former Ohio State star Logan Stieber by technical fall in the first round.
- Pat Downey, a former junior-college national champion at Iowa Central and Division I All-American at Iowa State who nearly wrestled at Iowa, fell in the first round at 86 kilograms to Joe Rau, 7-2.
- Jake Varner, a two-time NCAA champion for Iowa State and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, lost in the semifinals at 125 kilograms to former Minnesota star Tony Nelson, 3-2.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.