What more could he expect? The young Rhinos, 18 months into their wrestling careers, were about to step onto the mat against elite competition; children who had been in the sport for years.
What’s more, “They were all smaller than their opponents,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t cut weight. We just wanted them to see the next level and see how much more we need to prepare.
“They ended up raising their own bars and medaling.”
Out of 2,843 wrestlers at the Livestock Events Center, the Rhinos’ Niko Katsuyoshi (73 pounds) and Clemente Holguin (52) placed fifth in their respective weight classes in the 10-and-under and 6-and-under categories, while Aden Valencia took sixth at 49 pounds, also among 6-and-unders. Teammate Felipe Dueñas (84 pounds) won four matches but narrowly missed the 12-and-under podium.
“It was a huge accomplishment,” Gonzalez said. “These kids battled and battled with determination, and they pulled it off.”
Worlds marked the latest chapter in what has been an eventful three months for the Rhinos, who in February produced two high school state champions in Amy Fearnside and Isaiah Locsin of Live Oak, to go with the California USA Kids Folkstyle Intermediate title Katsuyoshi won in March.
Over the next three weeks, the 9-year-old Katsuyoshi will try for a triple crown at the Greco-Roman and freestyle state finals.
“He’s going to emulate Isaiah,” Gonzalez said.
After dropping his opening match to the eventual champion at worlds, Katsuyoshi reeled off four straight wins to reach the medal round, including a pivotal 2-1 victory over Selma’s Jace Luchau in which Katsuyoshi scored a go-ahead reversal on a Granby roll in the final 10 seconds. Katsuyoshi lost his next match but beat Utah’s Maverick Skinner 8-3 in the fifth- and sixth-place bout.
Katsuyoshi finished the tournament 7-2 and was the only Intermediate wrestler who placed in his bracket.
“I trust and believe in my coaches [Gonzalez, Dan Locsin and Armando Gonzalez Jr.] 100 percent, and that is why I have done so well so far,” said Katsuyoshi, a fourth-grader at Nordstrom Elementary School. “I have so much more I want to attain in wrestling, life and for the my future, but all of this has definitely started a great foundation.”
Valencia had a similar run at worlds, losing by one point to the No. 1-ranked wrestler in his bracket only to finish strong.
Holguin lost back-to-back matches by one point in the medal round but prevailed in the fifth- and sixth-place match in overtime.
Given their progress this year, the Rhinos will likely send a larger contingent to worlds in 2013.
“They’re really making great gains,” Gonzalez said. “They’re getting up to that national-caliber level in unbelievably fast time.”