.Photo: Belmont High Head Wrestling Coach Ivan Lozano (right) and assistant Matt Curaj
“Shoot!” yelled Belmont High Head Wrestling Coach Ivan Lozano to the Belmont wrestler struggling to get an advantage over his Watertown competitor in the small gym at the Wenner Field House at Belmont High last week.
Lozano was directing his young freshman wrestler to dive toward the opponent’s legs, grab them and then dictate the action.
But whether it was inexperience, fatigue or just a lack of confidence, Lozano’s wrestler couldn’t commit to the bread-and-butter move. Soon after, the Watertown wrestler got on top of the Marauder and … “bang!” the referee slammed his hand to the mat indicating a pin against the Belmont grappler.
After the match, Lozano, and his assistant Matt Curran spent a moment with their defeated charge to review what he did well and leave him with some encouraging words on improving after another tough loss in a season that can best be called a learning experience.
While there is no getting over that his wrestlers still have some way to go “you always have to be positive because when he hears negative things on the mat, he’s going to be thinking negative,” said Lozano.
There has been an enormous number of times the opponents arm was raised in victory this season. So be it, said Lozano, because his and Curran’s vision for the team is one with a single long-range goal: rebuild the sport that had fallen on hard times since he was a wrestler at Belmont High only five years ago.
Lozano wrestled with good competitors on a Belmont High team that included a state champion, Sami Baghdady.
And today, Belmont wrestling is his squad to guide.
“I love this team,” said Lozano who graduated from Belmont in 2011 and from UMass Boston in 2015. “It really is a blessing that so many freshmen who came out and committed themselves to the sport,” he said.
While nearly the entire team had no exposure to high school/collegiate-style wrestling that relies on strength and guile to pin an opponent, “they are coming here with the right mindset, ready to work,” said Curren graduated in 2014 from New Hampshire and 2010 from Arlington High.
“It’s better to have a new group of freshmen because they are coming to learn the basics. We’ve got them for four years,” said Curren. “As long as they are working hard, having fun and learning the sport, that’s all that matters now.”
There have been some encouraging results from recent meets. At the annual Brendan Grant tournament held at the Wenner in January, Belmont secured a pair of podium places as freshmen Bryson Lipson and Omer Rona finished fifth and sixth respectfully in their weight classes.
Lipson, who came away with a bit of a bent nose at the end of the night, won two matches before falling to the eventual champion at 152 pounds.
“I had one great match that went into overtime, sudden death. It was a good feeling to win that way although it did tire me out,” said Lipson.
Rona used a quite unique strategy in his victory, allowing his first-round opponent from Wakefield in the 195-pound category to “let him throw me around” until the final 30 seconds before turning the tables on him.
“He was guaranteed to win because he was up by ten points. But he was so tired trying to pin me that I got around him. He tried to get up but because he had no energy left I went for an arm bar (a favorite of UFC star Rhonda Rousey) and got the pin,” said Rona.
[When told of Omer’s “technique,” Belmont Selectman Chair Sami Baghdady – who was an outstanding high school wrestler and whose namesake was a state champion as a freshman for Belmont – advised Rona to “find a less unorthodox approach if he wants to survive long in the sport.”]
It is Lipson, Rona and the dozen or so wrestlers who just want to participate and improve gives the Belmont Wrestling brain trust confidence in what they are doing.
“It’s a very young team which means they have to come her every day to practice which they have been doing. It’s about fine tuning their technique for the next two to three years and then you will see our freshmen now be on top,” said Lozano, who relies on his small senior class to keep the “kids” motivated” through the growing pains of an inexperienced but determined team.
While the season is close to ending, Lozano and Curren will ask half a dozen wrestlers to commit to off-season training with them and area coaches.
“That will keep the sport going, as we improve, so will the number of kids who will come out for our sport,” Lozano noted.
Both coaches fully believe that wrestling’s future in Belmont “is more than promising. We actually see us achieving some realistic goals,” said Lozano.
“It’s only up from here,” said Curren.
As for the wrestlers, the question is with so many good sports teams to try out for, why choose to wrestle.
“Because it’s one of the, if not the most intense physical sports there is. I’ll keep working hard and practicing and try to get better,” Lipson said.
“It’s a sport I don’t have to worry about a team or a ball, I just have to worry about the other guy and myself. It’s all very simplistic,” said Rona, a 9th grader who enjoys physics.
So, how do you use physics in wrestling?
“You don’t,” said Rona.