When Anthony Gomez was in the middle of a losing streak during an otherwise solid freshman season, his coaches kept on encouraging him.
“They said, ‘Wait, it’ll be your time.’ That is what pushed me through my freshman year,” Gomez said. “They said to be patient because my time will come.”
Indeed, it’s Gomez’s time. The Christopher High junior entered the week ranked No. 2 in the heavyweight division of the Central Coast Section rankings. If Gomez stays healthy and continues to work hard, he’ll likely meet his nemesis, Jose Quintero of Alisal, in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division Championships and CCS Championships.
Even though Gomez has a less than stellar track record against Quintero—he’s 0-4 against the Alisal junior since the start of last season—Gomez has to like his chances for a breakthrough the next time the two wrestlers meet.
That’s because Gomez was on equal terms with Quintero in their latest meeting three weeks ago. Gomez lost the match, 2-1, when he rode into a Quintero shot with 2 seconds remaining. It was an agonizing defeat, and yet it also gave Gomez confidence that things will be different the next time they square off.
“I’m going to get him the next time for sure,” he said.
Gomez credits the four losses to Quintero as a huge motivating factor to improve. In their first match last year, Quintero easily handled Gomez, 7-0. But Gomez has made each succeeding match more competitive, culminating with their latest nail-biter.
“Every time I’ve lost to him, especially after the first time, I knew I needed to get my stuff together,” Gomez said. “The second time I lost to him, I was really upset and knew I had to train even harder. I had to keep pushing myself.”
Whenever Gomez goes up against a strong opponent, the matches tend to be low scoring. It’s the ultimate battle of attrition, and yet that suits Gomez just fine. Gomez has a similar game plan for every match: wear the opponent down before going in for the kill shot.
“You have to tire the guy out and get him out of position so you can take that shot and capitalize,” he said.
That’s exactly what Gomez did in most of his matches in last year’s CCS Championships. Despite losing in the 220-pound title match to Bellarmine’s Victor Jacquez via pinfall at the 2:58 mark of the first period, it couldn’t put too much of a damper on Gomez’s CCS breakthrough.
Gomez had already punched his ticket to state after recording a 5-3 win over Los Gatos’ Michael Wiley in the semifinals. Gomez recorded a two-point takedown with less than 30 seconds remaining, and he was left in tears in the aftermath of the victory.
“Making it to state was the whole goal of the season,” he said. “At the moment, I was stunned. I kind of thought, ‘Wait, did I just do this? Wow, I’m going to state.’”
Gomez remembers having a great conversation with Cougars coach Jose Lara, who served as the assistant coach last year.
“He said, ‘Why didn’t you come up and hug me afterward?’” Gomez said. “I told him I didn’t know, that I was so stunned and basically in tears.”
Lara was effusive in his praise for Gomez, whom he has helped develop into one of the section’s elite heavyweights.
“Jose is very energetic, very outgoing and has a high standard in terms of what he wants to accomplish this year,” Lara said. “He’s a solid wrestler and very coachable. He’s hungry for that CCS title and even more hungry to place at state. And he’s perfectly capable of doing that if he follows our plan.”
Lara said the plan is for Gomez to shoot, wrestle tough and wrestle smart.
“And so far Anthony has been applying those really well,” Lara said.
As of last week Gomez weighed 230 pounds. That means he’s giving up to 55 pounds in a given match, and Gomez said to counter that he’s planning on adding several pounds of muscle as the season goes along. It must be good to be a heavyweight. While the majority of wrestlers have to cut to make weight, Gomez has the luxury of not having to diet.
Gomez went 2-2 last weekend in the Tournament of Champions in Reno, a solid result considering the top-flight competition in the event. Off the mat, Gomez works two jobs: one at Crocs in the outlet mall and the other helping his grandma with her cleaning business.
“Anthony juggles school, sports, work, and he does them in remarkable fashion,” Lara said. “He doesn’t let anything get him down, and he’s willing to accept any challenges.”
Indeed, Gomez said the greatest challenge of his life came when his parents divorced three or four years ago. Gomez used wrestling as his oasis, a place where he could go to get away from the emotionally turbulent time he was enduring.
“My parents getting separated really pushed me to learn how to depend on myself and take care of others,” Gomez said. “It kind of pushed me to train even harder for wrestling and kind of take my mind off things.”
Last year’s state experience has driven Gomez to be his very best. He entered Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield like many first-timers to the state experience: wide-eyed, nervous and just happy to be there. But if Gomez makes a repeat trip to Bakersfield in March, his expectations will be completely different.
“If I can make it to state again, I’ll be more confident and expect more out of myself,” Gomez said, “because I know I can compete with the best of them.”