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The flame burns brighter than ever

for West Aurora's Mario Gonzalez


By Gary Larsen

He was burning a path through his weight class last year in Champaign when the fire went out for West Aurora’s Mario Gonzalez.

Gonzalez pinned Lincoln-Way Central’s Joe Mahy, beaten Montini’s Dan Grimes by 6-0 decision, and then won 7-0 over Prospect’s Peter Zintak to reach the Class AA semifinals at 189 pounds.

“I couldn’t have felt any better out there,” Gonzalez said. “Everything went exactly like I wanted it to in those matches.”

Coach Mike DiNovo concurred.

“He was wrestling as well as he can. He looked great. He was wrestling aggressively,” DiNovo said. "All three of those kids are excellent wrestlers. It looked like Mario was doing whatever he wanted with them.”

His quest for a state title turned in a state semifinal match, when Gonzalez lined up across from Dundee-Crown’s Mike Lukowski. A solid defensive wrestler, Lukowski put the brakes on Gonzalez’s downstate run, winning a 5-4 decision in overtime.

“Credit Lukowski. He wrestled the perfect match to win against Mario,” DiNovo said.

Gonzalez bounced back with a pin of Marist’s Arthur Smith to place third in Assembly Hall.


“After I lost, I just remember going back to the hotel, taking a shower, and going to sleep,” Gonzalez said. “I had to relax. I lost the third place match the year before because I wasn’t mentally prepared.

“Against (Smith), coach told me to relax and just do what I was doing before. And that’s what I did. I was devastated from losing, but I wanted to place as high as I could after that.”

After the match, Gonzalez sat in the stands at Assembly Hall and watched Lukowski win a state title via 10-3 decision over a wrestler that Gonzalez had pinned during the regular season.

“It was almost unbearable,” Gonzalez said of watching the title match. “It was not a good feeling.”

 The only thing that stuck in Gonzalez’s craw about his semifinal loss was the stalling call he was penalized with late in the match. This year, he doesn’t intend to allow an official’s decision to decide any of his matches.

“I’ve got to go out and put points in the board,” Gonzalez said. “My goal is to tech everybody, or pin everybody, and give up no points.”

Gonzalez has trained at Overtime in Naperville in every off-season since his freshman year, but put more effort into lifting this past summer. His chief strengths have been there since he was a young wrestler.

“Agility, balance, power, stamina – he’s had those qualities since his freshman year,” DiNovo said. “But his most amazing quality has always been his composure.”

Gonzalez’s even keel and desire to square off with anyone were evident in a match wrestled prior to the state tournament last year.

As everyone in the sport knows, there are matches between wrestlers that occur in regular-season duals and tournaments that alone are worth the price of admission. Gonzalez and Downers Grove South’s Ben Apland met in one of those in a late-season dual last year.

The Blackhawks’ Dan Carey had a tremendous season for DiNovo last year at 215 pounds, winning 35 matches and qualifying downstate, but he was out with the flu when West Aurora took on DGSouth. DiNovo simply asked Gonzalez if he wanted to bump up and wrestle Apland, an eventual unbeaten state champ who outweighed Gonzalez by 26 pounds.

“I don’t even think I finished the question,” DiNovo said. “Mario just said ‘I want to wrestle Ben.’ He didn’t hesitate.”

With every eye in the gym fixed on them, Apland won a 5-3 decision.

“Mario was able to handle Apland’s weight advantage, and he was able to maneuver and take his type of shots,” DiNovo said. “Apland is a great position wrestler, and he did a great job.
That was just a fun match to coach and watch.”

Gonzalez went 27-3 last year, 28-3 at 171 with a fourth-place state finish as a sophomore, and 27-8 at 171 as a freshman. With 82 wins heading into his final high school season, he figures to reach the 100-win milestone at West Aurora.

He’ll also carry with him the expectations that come with a high national ranking. W.I.N. Magazine has Gonzalez ranked fourth in the country at 189 pounds in its pre-season poll.

If Gonzalez does win a state title this year, he may have to get past a pair of other nationally-ranked wrestlers to do it. DeLaSalle’s Clayton Kendall is ranked 11th  and Montini’s Carl Foreside 17th in W.I.N. Magazine.

“I want the biggest challenges I can get,” Gonzalez said. “If I have a target on my back, I don’t have any problem with that.”

West Aurora hasn't had an individual state champion since since Israel Martinez in 2001.


“That’s what I’ve wanted since I started wrestling," Gonzalez said.
"I want to see my name up there,”

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