Southington’s Zach Bylykbashi told his parents, Jill and Rob, that he didn’t need a birthday present this year.
The 2015 Southington High grad turned 21 just two days before the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship in Rocky Mount, Va. on Feb. 24. He said that was the only gift he needed.
Bylykbashi, now in his junior year at Washington & Lee University, won the 141-pound division with a 6-4 overtime win over a former national champion in the semifinals, then rode out a 2-0 win in the finals. He went 4-0 over the two-day event.
“In the semifinal match, I came from behind,” Bylykbashi said. “I tied the match with a takedown with 20 seconds left and got the match into overtime. Then I got a takedown 20 seconds into overtime. I knew I had to get it done. I knew I had him where I wanted him.
“In the finals, I didn’t want to stop this train from rolling,” Bylykbashi added. “I wanted to cement my tournament with a win with a big win against good wrestler.”
His reward? A second trip to the NCAA Division III National Championships on Friday and Saturday in Cleveland.
Bylykbashi departed Wednesday afternoon for the 7½-hour drive from Lexington, Va. to the Cleveland Public Auditorium. His first match is Friday morning.
Bylykbashi goes into nationals after being named Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Southeast Regionals. He is 28-8 on the season and will bring an overall collegiate record of 88-24 into the weekend.
Bylykbashi has been particularly good since the Christmas vacation. At one point, he was 5-5 on the season. Since then, he’s 23-3.
“I’m very confident heading into this weekend,” Bylykbashi said Wednesday. “I’ve improved so much from first semester to second semester in confidence. I took some losses early because I was putting too much pressure on myself. I decided it was enough of that after the Christmas break and every week it got better and better, and I trusted myself more and more. I feel things are really clicking now.”
Last year, Bylykbashi competed at 133 pounds and finished 2-2 at nationals, one win shy of earning All-American honors. He finished 26-6 as a sophomore, but didn’t make nationals.
Bylykbashi burst onto the scene freshman campaign, when he rewrote much of the Washington & Lee record book. In that 2015-16 campaign, he finished 34-10. The 34 victories were a school record. He also established new program marks in takedowns in a season (96), four-point near falls (32) and total escapes (48).
“I didn’t make the national tournament as a freshman,” Bylykbashi said. “The lights were too bright for me last year. I let that get to me and I lost in the All-American round. Those positions have put me in a good position to make some noise.”
At Southington, Bylykbashi finished with a 101-35 career record. He was a three-time state placewinner and a two-time State Open runner-up. He was named All-CCC in each of his four years on the mat.
He was also member of the Connecticut Freestyle team three times and a member of the Greco National Team. A standout in the classroom, he was twice was named a wrestling Academic All-American.
Bylykbashi said his goal this year is to be a national champion.
“I just have to do the same thing I did last weekend,” Bylykbashi said. “I have to wrestle aggressive and hard and let things fly out there and not hold anything back. I’m facing the No. 1 seed. The last time I faced him, I lost 8-4. But he’s a kid I think I can beat because I didn’t wrestle my best that day.
“I want to beat the No. 1 seed and put everyone else on notice right away. From there, I will move on to Saturday. I just want to take it one match at a time.”
Bylykbashi is a double major. He is studying Business Administration and American Government.
“I would describe my situation here as perfect academically, athletically and socially,” Bylykbashi said. “I love the coaches here and I couldn’t think of a better situation for me.”
Bylykbashi’s parents and his brother, Shaun Wagner, who recently placed fifth at the New England Championships for Southington, will already be in Cleveland when Zach arrives.