When it comes to wrestling, Lakeside High School's Joe Brejda rarely makes a mistake. The 145-pound junior led the Panthers in regular season competition this year with more than 30 wins.
In Saturday's Region 2-AAAA Traditionals, Brejda made a mistake.
"I was beating the kid, and I don't know exactly what happened after that," he said. "I ended up getting pinned."
The Lakeside junior fell to Westside-Macon's 145-pounder. The loss came against a wrestler Brejda had already defeated earlier this season, and shattered his dreams of a first-place region title.
"It kind of brings you down to earth," he said. "I had a bad match after that because I was still thinking about that loss."
The pin set Brejda back in competition and one more loss would keep him from qualifying for state competition. With two matches left, Brejda's entire season was in jeopardy.
Fortunately for Brejda, friends were there to help motivate him: teammate Dennis Miller and Lakeside assistant coach Garrett Testa.
"They were about the only two to talk to me. They said I was pretty scary at the time," Brejda said.
The junior said he struggled in his next match, but still won. In his final match of the day, Brejda pinned his opponent to secure a third-place finish and a guaranteed bid in the state tournament.
"I told myself I've got to fight my way back," he said. "I always get motivated when someone beats me, and I get a second chance."
Brejda is one of seven Panthers to finish in the top four at Saturday's region traditionals and reach the state tournament.
With a state-tournament atmosphere and a bad taste in his mouth from a poor region showing, Brejda said he'll have plenty to think about when the tournament starts this weekend.
"I've been to a lot of tournaments but state's different," he said. "It's so much bigger, and there's so much more that you're going for. The experience will help me out this year."
Brejda said he's hoping for a top-four finish in the state tournament this weekend. After his close brush with a possible season-ending loss, Lakeside's top wrestler said he's learned a valuable lesson.
"No match is a given except a forfeit," he said.
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