AMES, Iowa – As Austin Gomez steps onto campus for his second year at Iowa State, many things are different this time around. The Carol Stream, Ill., native earned a spot on the Junior World Team at 61 kg at the beginning of June. Gomez also is in line to hold down the 133-pound spot in the Cyclone lineup this season.
However, it may be the experience and knowledge he gained during his first year that is driving his preparation ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.
“Last year, I came in as a newbie and kind of got my butt whooped a little bit,” Gomez said. “I have a lot more experience this year. I know what to expect. I feel like I’m training harder and smarter. The factor of knowing that I could be the guy this year is playing a big part in training right now.”
Gomez also senses a change in the team’s psyche.
“We’ve got that winning feeling,” Gomez said of his teammates. “We know what it takes to win. If we can replicate what we put out in the practice room out on the mat, we’re going to be a pretty tough team.”
When Gomez arrived at Iowa State last summer, he was fresh off of a defeat at the Junior World Team Trials Qualifier. He fell to Minnesota’s Mitch McKee 2-1 in a best-of-three series for the spot at 57 kg.
“There’s some things that need to be fixed,” Gomez said of his thoughts directly following that match. “There’s some technique and some areas that I need to get better at. That’s what coach Zadick really talked to me about right after that match. He said we’re going to fix some things and get it done.”
Gomez credits his high motor and pace for his success in wrestling. After the loss in Lincoln, he was ready to get back on the mat and compete, however, it would be longer than the three-time Illinois state champ would have hoped for.
The plan was to redshirt Gomez during the 2017-18 season, which would allow him to still compete unattached. Early on in the year, Gomez suffered a concussion that would put him out for three months, effectively sidelining him for most of his freshman campaign.
Gomez didn’t let the injury become a set back and continued to grow, even if it wasn’t on the mat.
“It put things into perspective for me if I didn’t have wrestling,” Gomez said of his injury. “I could get injured and my career could be over. I did a lot of reading. I saw it as a blessing that God may have given me that I could come back stronger from this. I think I did. I think the best version of Austin Gomez came out after that.”
As the Cyclones sent a troop of wrestlers to the Willie Myers Open, Gomez was amongst them, finally cleared to compete. In his first match back, Gomez released six months of pent up preparation, and tech-falled Tristan Jenny of UW-La Crosse 20-5 en route to the open title at 133 pounds.
“I was so ready to compete,” Gomez said. “I was itching. I hadn’t wrestled live since I lost that match to Mitchell McKee. So yeah, I was itching pretty bad.”
Gomez closed out his first year with two more open titles at the Duhawk Open and Sioux City Dave Edmonds Open. He compiled an 8-0 record and won five of his matches by technical fall. A small sample size, but solid results.
“It was fun to wrestle and represent Iowa State University,” Gomez said. “I came here to represent Iowa State and put Iowa State back on top. That’s the main reason I came here. It was a lot of fun to put Iowa State under my name.”
As a member of the Junior World Team, Gomez will get to continue to rep the Cardinal and Gold on the sport’s biggest stage. Gomez qualified for the Junior World Team in June in Rochester, Minn. He defeated Cornell’s Arujau Vitali 11-8 and then 15-4 to lock down the spot at 61 kg.
Along with getting to represent Team USA in Slovakia in September at the Junior World Championships, Gomez now gets the opportunity to train with the best in the country leading up to the 2018-19 season.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to make this team,” Gomez said. “I made a cadet team in 2013, and I was either second or third every year after that. It was a big monkey off my back that I made the team. I’m not just going there to wrestle at the World Championships, I want to bring home a gold medal for Iowa State University, my family and God.”
“Our training camps are designed so we can wrestle with the senior level guys too. The US is the best country in wrestling right now. With our developmental program, we’re going to have a lot of real good guys that we’re going to get to train with. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
All of this before Gomez ever takes the mat for his first official match as an Iowa State Cyclone.
Although he’s tuned into bringing a gold medal back to Ames, the prospect of the 2018-19 season still crosses Gomez’s mind. The Big 12 alone returns three All Americans at 133 pounds, including national champion Seth Gross. Gomez delights at this challenge.
“That’s what it’s about,” Gomez said. “To be the best guy in the country, you have to beat the best guys in the country. Seth Gross is the top guy at 133 right now, but I don’t think he’s wrestled anybody of my caliber. I’m going to bring it this year, and these guys better be ready.”
Whether it’s been overcoming a tough loss, an injury or dominating the guy in front of him on the mat, Gomez has approached it with a clear mind and a plan of attack. As we roll into the 2018-19 season, it would appear that Gomez has that same laser focus that has served him well thus far.
“I think it’s going to be more of the same,” Gomez said of his preparation. “I get in the room, I shut my mouth and I go out there and learn. What I put out in the wrestling room is going to show in a match, and I think I work pretty hard in the wrestling room.”