One week before senior wrestler Alex Gomez was set to become the first-ever Ithaca College wrestler to compete in the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic on Nov.1 at the University of Pennsylvania, he sat with head coach Marty Nichols in Nichols’ office on the ground floor of Hill Center.
Both sets of eyes were intensely focused on Nichols’ computer, which displayed video of Gomez’s opponent, Kevin Devoy Jr., a Drexel University redshirt sophomore and Division I wrestler.
“Terrible hand position,” Nichols muttered under his breath in reaction to the film. He scribbled something on a notecard, which he handed to Gomez after the video ended.
“That’s our card for the whole week,” Nichols said.
Gomez and Nichols talked more about the strategy behind competing against a Division I wrestler. On film, Devoy Jr. appeared to be a defensive-minded wrestler. Finally, Gomez departed, after making plans with Nichols to meet again later in the week to discuss Devoy Jr. more specifically.
Gomez and Nichols are scouting the match as thoroughly as they would any of Gomez’s regular-season matches, even though it won’t count toward the senior’s NCAA record. In October, Gomez was selected to participate in the NWCA All-Star Classic, which is one of the most elite college wrestling events in the country, aside from the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, which occur each year in March.
The event, which began in 1928, pits the top-ranked Division I wrestlers in each weight class against one another to open the season. In addition, it features several showcase matches, which is what Gomez competed in. Jason Bryant, the NWCA’s director of media relations, compared the event to NASCAR’s Daytona 500, which is considered one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races, even though it occurs at the beginning of the racing season.
“You’re starting the year with some of the biggest matchups in the country,” he said. “You can’t find an event that’s going to have this many wrestlers ranked this high with this many national championships any other time except for the NCAA Division I Championships.”
This was the atmosphere that Gomez wrestled in when he traveled to UPenn. Nichols accompanied him, as it was he who helped Gomez get picked for the event.
“I spoke to the guy who was running this whole thing,” Nichols said. “He knew Alex and knew we had a really good guy at that weight, and we made it happen.”
Though Gomez eventually lost to Devoy Jr. in a 9–4 decision in the 133-pound weight class, last year’s NCAA Northeast Regional champion said it was a learning experience.
“You learn from your losses, and I feel like I can definitely improve in some areas,” Gomez said. “I’d say it was more of a mental thing that I had against me. I was kind of blank even though I knew what he was going to do.”
Gomez said he struggled with focus in the first round but rebounded in the second and third.
Part of this could be attributed to the short amount of time that Gomez had to prepare for the event. Though he and Nichols scouted Devoy Jr. in the week leading up to the match, Gomez said he would have liked more time to prepare.
“Coming into this all-star tournament, I didn’t get many practices in, and it was last-minute working out with wrestling and getting mentally prepared,” he said. “A week wasn’t as much time as I wanted.”
Because the wrestling season has technically not begun yet, Gomez said he has been focusing on his classes. However, the senior, who posted a 27–3 record last season, said he will be ready to go for the team’s first tournament on Nov. 7.
Despite the loss, Gomez was able to compete against a worthy opponent as a warm-up of sorts for the season. Because the match does not count against Gomez’s record, he enters his senior year with a clean record and said his ultimate goal is to keep the losses column at zero en route to a Division III national championship.
“[My goals are] going undefeated and winning nationals when they come around,” Gomez said. “I need to stay focused. I need to keep wrestling and working on my weaknesses.”
Nichols has the utmost confidence in his top wrestler, who is ranked first in Division III in his weight class by the NWCA to begin the season.
“He’s really a guy who can win the Division III nationals this year and probably a top-12 guy in Division I,” Nichols said. “He would probably be in the All-American round or place in the Division I tournament.”