By John Goralski
Nate Solomon’s right eye was already swollen shut when he stepped onto the championship mat. By the end of his final bout, Solomon’s nose was packed with gauze to hold off the bleeding. In the toughest division of the Class LL championships, Solomon grappled with almost every top seed.
When officials signaled the end of his final match, Solomon raised his arms in triumph as king of the 126-pounders.
“It feels amazing,” said the battered grappler. “My goal this year was to get my name up on that banner [in the Southington High School gym]. I came out here and took care of it.”
Coaches were quick to agree. Solomon’s march to the championship was one of the toughest roads. He entered the weekend with a 31-6 record but was ranked fifth within the tournament’s powerhouse division. Solomon pinned a state open place-winner in the quarterfinals. He out-lasted the top seed, 5-1 in the semifinals and earned the title with a 1-0 win in the championship bout.
“He didn’t do anything this weekend that he hasn’t been doing all year, but he just out-physicaled and out-hustled some of these kids,” said Blue Knight coach Derek Dion. “He saw four great kids, and he was so fortunate to come out with the win.”
Moments after the last champion was crowned, Solomon was announced as the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. It was the first time a Southington grappler has earned the coveted prize since Bill Lee in 1999.
“The top six here might end up being the top six next week at the opens,” said Dion. “There were some really, really good kids. There were some accomplished wrestlers in this weight class. For him to even be the fifth seed was a big accomplishment. He had to wrestle his butt off, and he did.”
Solomon wasn’t alone on the podium. Zach Maxwell continued his torrid pace through the 195-pound division with five consecutive wins, including a trio of pins. Maxwell entered the tournament as the top seed and cruised to his first Class LL title. He battled through a scoreless first period in the championship bout, scored a takedown midway through the second, and forced his opponent onto his back for a pin.
Maxwell said that the victory took a heavy weight off his shoulders.
“Last year, I came out here expecting to win it and I got pinned in the finals. That was just a heart breaker,” he said. “I knew that I could have won, so I knew that I had to step up my game. I wanted everyone to know that I deserved to be the champion.”
Maxwell’s victory came as no surprise to Dion. The junior has been in the spotlight all season.
“He’s going to feel that pressure a lot because he is such a talented kid,” said the coach. “He works so hard, but a lot of times people can get tightened up in these sorts of situations. He stayed loose and did what he needed to do. Hopefully, next week he can do the same thing.”
With their victories, Solomon and Maxwell advanced to the state open championship, and they’ll be joined by four teammates. Austin Sullivan (182) went 4-2 to capture fourth place overall. Zach Bylykbashi (120) placed fifth. Zach Murillo (106) and Travis Daly (285) earned sixth place medals.
“I think we outdid ourselves today,” said Maxwell. “It’s almost like there’s been a black cloud over this team, so it was good to get so many of our guys to the opens. They deserve to win and go onto next week.”
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By John Goralski