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Saavedra survives, becomes national champ
saavedra mug
Emilio Saavedra

For his trip to Ohio, Pitman High freshman Emilio Saavedra carried with him more than just his clothes and wrestling gear. Metaphorically speaking, he had a giant monkey on his back.

During his first year of high school wrestling, high expectations followed Saavedra around like an invisible cloak. Coaches and fellow wrestlers anticipated his winning a state title. He came close. Very close.

If it wasn’t for the close loss in his semifinal match of the CIF State Championships in Bakersfield last month, he’d have met expectations. He was crushed, but also very determined to redeem himself. He did so at last weekend’s 2011 FloNationals at Walsh Jesuit High in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where he endured a sweat-soaking 5-2 win over Nathan Boston of Indianapolis’ Lawrence North High to capture Pitman’s first national title.

He also became the first freshman to win a title at the tournament, his coach noted.

“I just tried to keep the pace, keep the tempo, keep it up and tried to out-hustle him the whole match,” Saavedra said in an immediate post-game interview with

He did more than control the pace. He ruled the 103-pound weight class. He defeated three state champions and three nationally ranked wrestlers. He earned redemption.

He had a disappointing run at last month’s California state tournament, according to Saavedra himself. To some, a third-place finish at what is considered the country’s toughest state tournament is more than enough. Not for Saavedra, who held a No. 1 ranking for most of the season. He came up short. He suffered a heartbreaking 6-4 overtime loss in the semifinals, killing his hopes of becoming a state champion.

Since that fateful day, he’s never stopped.

“He hasn’t rested a single day since that state tournament,” Pitman coach Adam Vasconcellos said, “and he is a better wrestler now because of it.”

In the quarterfinals of last weekend’s tournament, he beat a two-time West Virginia state champion with a score of 5-2. But his most convincing match came in the semifinals, where he overpowered Aaron Assad of Ohio with a 10-0 decision. Assad had lost to the No. 1 wrestler in the country by just one point earlier in the year.

Saavedra then, of course, beat Boston, who entered the match with a 45-0 record.

“It is exciting to have our first national champion and for him to only be a freshman is even better,” Vasconcellos said. “We will have him for three more years and he has set the bar for all of our youth wrestlers. Our youth team is getting better and better. We had 10 state medals at the youth state championships and every single one of those kids looks to our leader, Emilio.”

Savvedra’s goal now?

“Just to keep winning,” he said in his post-match interview.

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.