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On the mat with … HB’s Zack Brickner

As far as critics go, Zack Brickner might be his toughest.

The Hollis Brookline senior has delivered a sparkling 40-6 mark on the season, a Division II state championship and most recently, reached the finals of the New Hampshire Meet of Champions.

Still, in falling to two-time state champ Sterling McLaughlin of Pinkerton Academy, Brickner heaped the responsibility squarely on himself.

“He wrestled a tough match. I kind of crumbled from nerves, and he got the win,” said Brickner. “It wasn’t nerves about performing in the finals in front of people. I had worked so hard all year. I was so afraid of failure. It got in my head and messed me up.”

Brickner is banking that won’t happen again when he and six other area combatants head to Providence for this past weekend’s New England High School Championships.

Before getting back to work and re-focussing, Brickner sat down to talk about life, his potential future in science and his favorite wrestler on earth (Hint, it’s not John Cena!).

OK Zack, nothing about losing is fun. But can you use the finals defeat to McLaughlin to your

advantage?

“It was definitely a learning experience. Now, I have try to keep the nerves in check. The worst thing that could have happened, happened yesterday and it can’t happen again.”

That said, how do you put the bad behind you?

“I just have to think about bouncing back. I need a good week of practice, put in all the effort I can and focus on the mental part of it so the nerves don’t get the best of me again.”

First trip to New Englands, right?

“I was fourth at the MOC last year and just missed. Obviously, being a senior, I’m happy to qualify. It’s just not the way I wanted. It’s definitely going to drive me.”

No other sports for you Zack?

“Nope, I’m a full time wrestler, year-round, both at Doughboys in Lowell and Gate City in Nashua.”

How did you get into wrestling?

“My dad (Shawn) had always wanted me to wrestle. He wrestled in New York and basically wrestled since he could walk. Unfortunately I wanted to play basketball with my friends. But in middle school I tried it. And I loved it.”

Was dad any good?

“He was definitely a very good wrestler. As an assistant coach with the team, he comes into the room and still beats up on everybody. Well everybody except for me. He has a good time. I didn’t expect him to still have it. He does.

“Having him there with me, every step of the way, teaching me and being there for me has just been amazing.”

What about off the mat, any job?

“I actually had two jobs before wrestling season. I worked at Harvest Market in Hollis and I work the fields on one of the farms in town.”

Farm work, wow. Sounds like a breeze?

“Oh yeah, bailing high in a field on a 90-degree day in the sun, sure.”

What about hobbies?

“I like to fix my piece of junk truck, a 1999 Dodge Durango. It likes to break down all the time. It was my grandparents’ truck, and my dad and I fixed it up. Now it kind of runs.”

All right, back to wrestling here. You guys won the Division II state team title on a day you won the individual championship. That has to be quite a memory?

“The entire team. I’m so proud of our team for that. We’re a young team, no juniors, couple sophomores and a lot of freshmen. Coach Bumpus has said since the beginning of the season we had a chance. The kids who weren’t in the finals were selfless. It was a total team effort. I will never forget that. Going out with it as a senior was just amazing, being part of that team.”

So, more than half way through your senior year, any plans for the future?

“Next year, there are a couple colleges looking at me for wrestling, and I’m trying to find one that has my major. I’m looking at chemical engineering. Obviously, I’d love to keep wrestling.”

You dig wrestling that much?

“If I had a college that had my major and wrestling, I would continue wrestling. It’s a great sport. I can’t get enough of it.

“I love the challenge, the hard work that goes into it. I love that. Seeing yourself grow, get better and surpass people. It’s a team sport, but at that individual level, you get out what you put in. You write your own career.”

And there’s an important chapter this weekend in Providence?

“It’s definitely bittersweet. I don’t want it to end. I’m just very excited to compete. The goal is to win the New England championship. One week left, I’m excited and sad all at the same time.”

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