BRISTOL - It was just over a year ago, in December of 2016, that Bristol Eastern wrestler Diego Fernandez took up the sport.
Now Fernandez is a Class L state champion in the 145-pound weight class.
“It means a lot,” Fernandez said. “Last year I was JV and got the ring and the jacket and the other stuff. And now I came to the lineup and I won [the Class L title]. This team means a lot and [Bristol Eastern head coach Bryant Lishness] is the best coach ever.”
Fernandez is 27-4 for the season as the State Open approaches.
“Diego’s story is pretty good,” Lishness said. “It’s like stuff that movies are made of. He came here from the Dominican as a freshman. For him to be where he is, is a really big deal. He’s worked really hard for it. He had some things to overcome coming here. To do what he’s done is really special.”
His hard work on the mat and dedication to the sport got him to this point and, still a junior, Fernandez has the potential to become even better.
“He’s a great kid and he’s got such a great story,” Lishness said. “He moved [to Bristol] as a freshman and didn’t start wrestling until last year. He was wrestling for our [junior varsity] team last year. To see a kid go from a [junior varsity] wrestler to a state champ is pretty special.”
Fernandez typically trains with other top Bristol Eastern wrestlers, such as Mike Barrett, Trinidad Gonzalez and Justin Marshall. All four won individual titles in Class L.
“It’s amazing to see how much [Diego] has progressed,” Barrett said. “I wouldn’t even have been able to practice with him earlier this year, because I wouldn’t get much out of it, but now he’s my number one practice partner. He’s my favorite practice partner in the room besides Trinidad [Gonzalez] and, with him, it made the team a lot closer.”
“Diego worked hard for this spot,” Gonzalez said. “He wrestled all year round. He’s been working his [butt] off and I think he deserved the spot. And look where he’s at now. He deserves it.”
Barrett has served as a mentor to Fernandez.
“I want to say thanks to [Mike Barrett],” Fernandez said. “Without him I would not have won that today.”
Following his win in the final round, Fernandez showed some additional emotion on the mat and ran over to his coaches to hug them as a sign of appreciation.
He attributes much of his success to those that have been there with him along the way since arriving in Bristol.
Coach Lishness got him out on the mat and the two celebrated in a big way.
“Coach Lishness said you want to try this, doing wrestling,” Fernandez said. “I got the paper, went home and the next day I came back and I was doing wrestling. It was good. They loved the way that I wrestled and look now. Working hard with the coaches paid me back.”
It was a good day overall for Bristol Eastern, repeating as Class L state champion. Fernandez’s title made it that much more special, as a person that has had such an impact both on the mat and as a teammate.
“He’s just such a good kid,” Lishness said. “Everybody loves him. And to see him win after such a short time wrestling makes it even better.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org