By John Goralski
At the midway point in the match, Zach Maxwell trailed, 4-0. As the timer approached the official to signal the end of the bout, Maxwell still trailed, 4-2.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, Southington’s 195-pounder was struggling to find a chink in the armor of his all-star opponent in the State Open championship bout, but Somer’s standout Kyle Foster wasn’t making it easy. Every time that Maxwell tried to escape, Foster pulled him back. Every time Maxwell tried to force a move, Foster was ready.
“I told him that, if you attack, good things are going to happen. I was screaming and screaming,” said Blue Knight wrestling coach Derek Dion. “He just came alive…finally. It was a little late. I was hoping that he would come alive before that, but he finally came alive. He did it, and I’m so happy for him.”
With three seconds left on the clock, Maxwell finally found a sliver of light. He ducked underneath and charged like an outside linebacker into Foster’s chest. Maxwell turned him, slid over the top, and the official signaled two points in the same motion as the final whistle.
“I knew that it was going to be a match of takedowns, and I just went for it,” said Maxwell. “Coach has been telling me the whole entire season to just go for it, and it finally worked.”
Foster never recovered. Just seconds into the overtime period, Maxwell sprung his move again. He scored two more points with his second takedown, and officials signaled the win. With a 6-4 overtime decision, Maxwell became just the third Southington wrestler to claim a state open title.
“Oh, my God. I can’t even believe it right now. It’s like I’m not even here,” Maxwell said just moments after the victory. “I’ve worked so hard for this. This is the best feeling in the world.”
Maxwell’s victory over Foster was the first in two meetings this season. Foster captured a 7-3 victory in the finals of the Greater Hartford invitational meet in mid-January. Foster, a senior, was the heir apparent. He finished as runner up in last year’s state open meet and went on to finish second in New Englands. That’s why Dion was concerned late in the match when Maxwell was trailing by two points.
“I was so scared that he was going to sit on it and let it go because 4-2 is a good loss to an excellent kid,” said Dion. “But he got it in gear to take his shot. I told him that I’d rather he get pinned trying to win than lose 4-2 by dancing with him. He finally put it in gear and he did it.”
With the victory, Maxwell joins current assistant coach Bill Lee and former Blue Knight Larry Liseo as the only Southington wrestlers to capture a state open title.
“We’ve had so many good kids and so many finalists,” said Dion. “This is a weird tournament. Kids show up. They don’t show up. That kid took second last year, so I really expected a herculean effort from him, and he did. He came out and wrestled tough. We just got it done. This is special.”
Maxwell wasn’t the only Knights to battle his way into the medal round. Travis Daly scored three wins at the start of the weekend tournament and held on for a sixth place medal in the heavyweight division.
Nate Solomon rebounded from a controversial loss to claim fifth place overall in the 126-pound weight class. Solomon had the best shot at joining Maxwell in the finals, but a controversial point was awarded to his opponent in a 1-0 quarterfinal loss. Solomon won his final match, but his opponent went on to capture the state open title.
“He had a shot at it. There were four kids left in that weight class, and he had already beaten three of those kids,” said Dion. “It’s too bad, but there are a lot of excellent wrestlers that don’t win this tournament.”
Sophomores Zach Murrillo (106), Zach Bylykbashi (120), and Austin Sullivan (182) each scored wins at their first state open meet, and Southington (65 points) finished 10th out of 96 teams.
“Overall we wrestled pretty good this weekend. We had one tough match, a heartbreaker, and he would have won in the finals,” said Dion. “To get one champion is huge, but all five guys wrestled well. They all won more than they lost, so it was great.”
Now, the junior grappler will try to do what no other Knight has been able to accomplish as aims at the New England title this weekend. Maxwell will try to carry his momentum into the Providence Career and Technical Center in Rhode Island against the top four wrestlers from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island.
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