Armando Gonzalez knew there was something special about Isaiah Locsin the day he met him seven years ago.
At age 9, Locsin was a marvel of fitness from years working with his father Dan’s patented Yoke Training System. Locsin expressed interest in wrestling for Gonzalez but had no previous experience with the sport.
Gonzalez had seen enough, however, to know the possibilities for Locsin were boundless.
“He was ready physically and mentally for any sport,” Gonzalez said. “He could jump right on the Physioball, balance and hit a speed bag.”
That kind of physical prowess was on display for the state to witness last weekend at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. A perfect 2011-12 season culminated in a state title for Locsin, as the Live Oak sophomore beat top-ranked Jonas Gaytan of Clovis 5-4 in the 113-pound CIF final Saturday night.
Locsin finished the year 51-0 and became the first male state champion in Live Oak history.
“I just felt like all the hard work paid off,” he said. “I was happy because all my coaches put all this time in. I was able to do it. I did it.”
Locsin entered the match ranked No. 2 in the state after winning a second straight Central Coast Section championship last week. He faced an equally fast and very strong junior in Gaytan (55-2), who had held the No. 1 ranking for most of the season. At 5 feet, 4 inches, Gaytan had a slight edge in reach over the 5-foot-3 Locsin but struggled against his rapid ankle attacks.
“He’s a quick wrestler, very quick with his hands,” Gaytan said. “He’s fast. He pushes. He’s a great wrestler.”
It was a year ago almost to the day that Locsin suffered an emotional 6-4 loss to Johnson Mai of North Torrance in the 103-pound state final. Locsin used that as motivation this season.
“It’s awesome. It’s very rewarding,” said Gonzalez, who has now groomed five state champions. “Isaiah came up short last year, and nobody knows how much he suffered and how upset he was. I was praying to God we wouldn’t have a repeat of that for him, and Isaiah did not let that happen.”
Just as he did in a 9-4 semifinal victory over eventual third-place finisher Matt Nader of Canyon, Locsin fell behind early only to respond with a big scoring run. After falling behind 2-0 on a late takedown in the first round, Locsin changed his strategy.
“Clovis has a really tough defensive style,” Gonzalez said. “They pound the head and shorten the offense. So we wanted to hit him head on – short offense versus short offense. ... Second round, we threw out our strategy and went back to what we do best. We started opening it up, and that’s what got (Gaytan’s) legs to open up.”
Locsin escaped five seconds into the second round, tied it on a single-leg takedown, and went ahead, 5-3, for good on an ankle attack for two points with 10 seconds left.
Gaytan escaped 18 seconds into the final round but would not score again, as Locsin stayed on the offensive and defended himself well through the final 30 seconds.
“He was tough. I just had to stay focused and listen to my coaches,” he said.
So focused was Locsin, it looked as though the magnitude of the victory was lost on him after the final whistle. He made a beeline for the center of ring, crouched to peel off his head gear, and froze for several seconds as cameras flashed and cheers rained down.
They came from all corners of the arena, including a very large Gilroy following. Locsin of course wrestled for the Gilroy Hawks club under Gonzalez before joining Live Oak and the Morgan Hill Rhinos, whom Gonzalez now coaches.
“Isaiah’s always a crowd favorite,” he said. “Being against a Clovis guy, we knew we would have the crowd on our side.”
Locsin and Gonzalez were both happy to see the Gilroy trio of Paul Fox (126 pounds), Nikko Villarreal (132) and Willie Fox (145) reach the finals. Fox defeated No. 2 Alex Abono of De La Salle–Concordia, and Villarreal overcame a 3-0 deficit with a throw and pin in the third period to beat top-ranked Alex Cisneros of Selma in the most exciting match of the night.
“It feels great to see them get this far,” Locsin said. “I trained with them. We worked together, and it brought us to this point.”
After his win, Locsin was greeted at the concourse level by several Live Oak teammates and friends.
“I’m so proud of him,” Acorns captain Tyler Pederson said. “He’s a great example (of) hard work, good sportsmanship, good personality, good everything. He leads by example, and he’s a great example.”
Seven days earlier, the Live Oak program crowned another state champion in senior Amy Fearnside, who captured the 108-pound title at the CIF girls finals in Lemoore. Locsin and Fearnside joined 2008 graduate Moriah Fernandez as Live Oak’s only state champions.
Locsin reigned supreme in a bracket that included five state medalists. His tournament run was relatively smooth, although Locsin had to dig deep for an 8-6 decision in the first round against No. 14 Johnny Sanchez of Santa Ana and against Nader; Locsin got into a predicament early in the third round when he hooked his arms under Nader and tried to shuck to him for a takedown. Locsin lost his grip, however, allowing Nader to slip behind him for two points and a shot at a near fall. But Locsin exploded for an escape and a 7-4 lead.
“The opponents right off the bat were tough,” he said. “I had to get my head into the game and pick up. Everyone’s tough at state.”
Asked how he could top his historic season, Locsin’s smile faded for only a second.
“Keep wrestling,” he said. “Start focusing for the next state tournament.”
NOTES: Locsin’s effort was good enough for Live Oak to place 28th out of 122 schools with 28.5 points. Clovis ran away with the team title, scoring a tournament-record 256.5 points, followed by Bakersfield (129.5), Poway-San Diego (113), De La Salle (97) and Gilroy (94). The announced attendance for the two-day tournament was 18,247.