"I probably wrestled 140 matches in the off-season," the Paloma Valley High School senior said. "I'd get in a tournament every Saturday. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I'd look for a match in any open room I could find. Somewhere, someone's always wrestling."
That dedication -- and quite a bit of skill -- has paid off for Espinoza, who will become the first Paloma Valley High wrestler ever to compete in the CIF state meet. He will begin the two-day competition in the 108-pound class this morning in Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena.
Espinoza takes a 38-6 record into the state meet, having qualified in last week's CIF Masters Meet by rallying from a 4-1 deficit to score an 11-6 victory over his opponent. He is proud to be the first wrestler to represent the Wildcats at the state level.
"No one has ever done it before, so it's great, but there's a lot of pressure with that," Espinoza said. "Since my freshman year, I've been waiting to go to state."
After two successful years at the JV level, Espinoza took third in the Sunbelt League as a junior last year at the varsity level. That set the stage for his standout performance this season. Following the state meet, he will move up to 126 pounds at the senior state meet in Fresno.
Espinoza said his increased size and strength has been a big factor in his success this year. That, and his ability to pull off last-second reversals from apparent positions of submission.
"I'm comfortable wrestling in any position," he said. "Even if I'm down late in the match, I always feel I can get last-second reversals. That's what happened last week."
Espinoza said the Paloma Valley wrestlers consider themselves family.
"We have each other's backs," he said. "We're always together. When one guy is out there on the mat, we're all with him."