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Exchange student Gonzalez finds niche with wrestling

Luna Gonzalez (left), a foreign exchange student from Spain, performs a drill during a Putnam County-Hall wrestling practice.
Luna Gonzalez (left), a foreign exchange student from Spain, performs a drill during a Putnam County-Hall wrestling practice.

There’s no doubt that Luna Gonzalez has an adventurous spirit.

After all, she willingly left her native home of Madrid, Spain to travel to this country and spend a year studying at Putnam County High School.

But her curiosity also extends to sports and she’s excelling in one that she barely knew existed just a few months ago.

Gonzalez took up wrestling because it was the closest thing to her favorite sport back home, judo.

She’s taken to it so well that she has been the champion of her weight class at the two all-female meets she’s been in so far and is undefeated in dominating fashion against her gender in eight matches.

Though she’s 0-4 against boys so far this year, PC coach Gerald Kriewald says, “she’s working on that, too.”

“Luna’s got a lot of experience (six years) with judo, but she was very inexperienced with wrestling,” said Kriewald. “We were able to adjust her technique because at first she was all throw and no cover. We had to teach her that side of it and some different throws, too, but it’s all coming together for her now.”

After going 4-0 to win the 152-pound class at the Princeton event back in early December, Gonzalez showed that was no fluke by rolling to a 3-0 mark at the Ottawa Girls Invitational on Dec. 26, pinning Ottawa’s Ivy Jones in just 16 seconds in the championship match.

She opened with her toughest match to date, putting Audry Driscoll of Pekin on her back twice to score a 14-13 victory. She then pinned Kaneland’s Marisa Sosa in just eight seconds to reach the final.

According to her coach, who feels her greatest asset on the mat is her intensity off the opening whistle, the Driscoll match is the only one she hasn’t won by pin in less than 25 seconds.

“It’s all been very cool,” said Gonzalez, who practices mainly against the boys as the only other female wrestlers in the PC program are still in junior high. “Having done judo, I saw that wrestling was very similar, so if I was going to do a sport this year, it was going to be wrestling and I was very anxious to start … The first time I wrestled in a tournament (at Sterling Newman), I was really nervous, but by the second match I was much more relaxed.

“My teammates told me that this is the first year (for all-girl meets), so I’m glad I was able to be here now because I feel it’s a good opportunity for girls. At most meets, there are not a lot of girls, so we don’t feel as much a part of the team in those, but meets like those are a great opportunity in the sport. That makes me really happy … It’s also cool when the other teams have just one or two girls, that I can make friends.”

Gonzalez, who likes the American educational system and intends to study law when she graduates from high school in Spain a year from now, finds the team aspect of Panthers wrestling very appealing.

She intends to go out for track and field in the spring, perhaps to run the distance events.

“I’m still learning and in every tournament, I’ve learned a lot from other people, from watching and sometimes the ones I’m competing with,” Gonzalez said. “You always have to learn in order to get better and that’s what I want … I still prefer judo, but wrestling is pretty fun.”

Kreiwald said Gonzalez has acclimated well.

“It’s hard to blend in and find your niche when you’re only here for one year, but Luna has found hers,” Kriewald said, then added with a laugh. “She gets a little mad when I tell her she has to lose a couple of pounds to make weight class, but she’s a lot of fun to have around, very energetic and always very positive.”

Charlie Ellerbrock can be reached at 220-6939, or at cellerbrock@shawmedia.com.

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