CdM's Nguyen conquers challenge, wins PCL title

As a kid, Paul Nguyen played soccer, basketball and tennis. He says he wasn't very good in any of those sports.

Soccer and basketball proved to be a challenge because of his lack of size.

As the goalkeeper, he was unable to get to soccer balls that required him to jump and get them.

In basketball, he had a hard time getting shots off. When he did, he had a weird shot that didn't really have a chance of going in.

"I was OK at tennis," Nguyen said before going into why he gave up on the sport. "I just really hated picking up the balls."

Nguyen still wanted play a sport when he enrolled at Corona del Mar High as a freshman. He picked the least popular one on campus, and for the wrong reason.

"I'll join wrestling," Nguyen said. "I don't have to run."

He quickly found out that running is one of the most essential things to do in his new sport.

He ran a lot. He got beat up a lot.

"I wasn't very good on frosh-soph, either," Nguyen said of his first season.

His mother, Sam, worried.

"Paul, you're going to get hurt," Sam would say. "I don't like this sport. I get a heart attack every time you go wrestle."

Nguyen's father, Alex, did his best to calm Sam down, saying their son was going to be fine.

Nguyen stuck with the sport. He says he began to feel athletic, coordinated and fast. Each year, he improved.

Then before this season, his final one, Nguyen, who is 5-foot-4, thought about quitting. He didn't know if he wanted to continue anymore.

"I started to get burned out," said Nguyen, who still showed up for his senior season despite his concerns on whether he could handle another year of the demanding sport.

He didn't have cut too much weight, even though he planned to wrestle at 138 pounds for the second straight season.

Things began to click in the wrestling room. He was confident in his technique. He says he felt like he could take down anybody.

He proved it when the season began. He was pinning most of his opponents.

Halfway through the season, Nguyen wanted to quit again. It wasn't because he wasn't winning almost every time, because he was. It was because he was losing in practice.

"I'd been getting beat up," Nguyen said. "The competition in the room shot up. [Assistant coaches Matt] Lopez and [Seth] Seneca, they just made the intensity of the room just shoot up, which made our entire team just so much better. And I wasn't used to that. I was used to just to going in, just flying through people.

"I was actually starting to struggle a lot. I wasn't used to that. I wasn't getting any better. I was actually probably getting worse. I just didn't know what was happening."

What happened is CdM's staff pushed Nguyen, almost to the brink of forcing him to say, 'No more.' The staff wanted to make Nguyen a better wrestler.

Nguyen never told his coaches of his plans of quitting last month. They saw it through his wrestling. He wasn't going as hard. He took it easy.

Lopez and Seneca challenged Nguyen. And he's thankful they did. Without them, Nguyen doesn't become a Pacific Coast League champion for the first time. He doesn't pull off what Coach Gary Almquist called the best takedown of the year.

How Nguyen won the league title last week was by unleashing a move he had never executed in a match. He faked a lateral drop, and when the opponent countered, Nguyen nailed him with a foot sweep, dropping him right on his back.

"You could hear the whoomp of the kid hitting the mat," Almquist said in an email.

Just like that, Nguyen says he improved to 24-5 and recorded his 20th pin. His season isn't over.

He and five CdM teammates advanced to the CIF Southern Section Central Division individual tournament on Feb. 15 at Norte Vista High in Riverside. The goal for Nguyen is to place in the top five and qualify for the CIF Southern Section Masters meet.

Nguyen wants the season to last as long as it can. It's all up to him.

"Wrestling is a great sport," said Nguyen, adding that it has taught him discipline, hard work and pushed him. "Up until ninth grade, I was the kid that everybody made fun of. Now, everybody is, like, giving me respect."


Paul Nguyen

Born: May 7, 1995

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-4

Weight: 138 pounds

Sport: Wrestling

Year: Senior

Coach: Gary Almquist

Favorite food: Pasta

Favorite movie: "Inception"

Favorite athletic moment: "Winning league."

Week in review: Nguyen won the 138-pound Pacific Coast League title.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World