NEW HAVEN - New Britainâ€™s Isaiah Medina and Newingtonâ€™s Aidan Lozada were already used to sharing a mat together, but the stakes were never as high as they were during the 182-pound, fifth-place match in Saturdayâ€™s State Open.
The two wrestlers had faced off four times during their high school careers, but on Saturday, the fifth chapter of the head-to-head rivalry was for a spot on the podium and a spot in the New England Championships. The previous four matches between the two no longer mattered. It all came down to this final bout, the last time the two familiar foes would face off.
â€śIt was very intense,â€ť Medina said. â€śHe knows my moves and I know his, so it just came down to the nitty and gritty, and who wanted it more.â€ť
The intensity was prevalent from start to finish, as Medina and Lozada entered the second round scoreless and after a reversal from Medina gave him a 2-0 lead heading into the third, Lozadaâ€™s escape cut Medinaâ€™s lead to 2-1 in the final minute of the third round. With just 40 seconds on the clock, Medina recorded a crucial takedown and held on for a 4-1 win to clinch fifth place after falling short of the podium each of the last two years.
â€śAidan is a great wrestler,â€ť Medina said. â€śIâ€™ve wrestled him five times in my career. He put up a really good fight. But I just had that motivation. It came down to the final seconds.â€ť
With two wrestlers so familiar with each other, the battle for fifth place was simply a test of will and who was the better wrestler for those six minutes. There were no strategic advantages to be had, just another installment of a head-to-head clash that had been a yearly occurrence since the two were freshmen.
â€śAt this point in the season, itâ€™s always going to be difficult,â€ť New Britain head coach Nick Catalano said. â€śItâ€™s always going to be a tough match, even if weâ€™ve already seen him a bunch and had pretty favorable outcomes. You have to expect a battle at this point in the tournament. You have to credit Isaiah for finding a way to win.â€ť
It took Medina until the final minute to pick up that win and ensure his high school career would continue for one more event, and while Lozadaâ€™s came to a disappointing end, his final match could still be considered a hard-fought battle in every sense of the word, staying toe-to-toe with a grappler in Medina who didnâ€™t lose a regular-season match this year.
â€śIt was an intense match,â€ť Newington head coach Thuong Nguyen said. â€śBoth guys wanted it and it came down to the better wrestler winning. But it seemed like Aidan did everything he could to win that match. They definitely have a history and know each other pretty well, and thatâ€™s why the match was so close.â€ť
After coming painfully close to an upset victory and a trip to New Englands, Lozada was clearly disappointed with Saturdayâ€™s outcome and Medina made sure to go over to him after the match and shared a long hug. It was one last show of respect between two rivals who shared a classic final match.
â€śI just told him I enjoyed wrestling him over these four years,â€ť Medina said. â€śI had a great time wrestling him. Weâ€™re both seniors and I know that heartbreak. Iâ€™ve felt it two times in my career. I know what that feels like.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com