BURLINGTON — Josh Lee already has won three state Division 2 wrestling titles and one All-State crown using his unorthodox style on the mat. In his senior season at Burlington High, he’s hungrier than ever for the only thing that has eluded him: a New England title.
“He’s funky, is the best way to describe it,” said junior Sean McGillivrey, who has been Lee’s drilling partner since the two were in elementary school. “He goes with the flow. If he feels something there, he’s going to take it.”
Lee goes at his own speed in practice. He likes to simulate the unpredictability of an actual match by freestyling into unfamiliar situations, then overpowering his opponent.
“I’ll go into positions that are 50-50, and I’ll just roll around until I know that I’m in a better position than he is,” said Lee, who will wrestle at 138 pounds this season. “Once I get them down, I get my legs in and just basically bully them over.”
When he was a freshman, Lee upset top-seeded Nick Camacho of Woburn in the 120-pound class, and he’s been addicted to winning ever since.
“If I can do that as a freshman, I can do anything,” said Lee. “It put that mindset into my head, and I couldn’t get it out.”
He had already been wrestling for five years in the town’s youth program, and had the extra advantage of living with a sparring partner, his older brother Tommy.
“It felt kind of more like a competition between me and him,” said Lee, “and I always felt like I wanted to win.”
Tommy was always about 10 pounds bigger, but he didn’t take it easy on Josh at wrestling practice or in their countless basement matches. When Tommy won, it was often because of his meticulous technique. Josh, on the other hand, used raw power.
“The first thing that jumps out at you is his athleticism,” said Burlington coach Paul Shvartsman of the younger Lee. Tommy probably could have been a state champion if he didn’t get injured his senior year, but wasn’t as naturally gifted as his brother, Shvartsman said. “Josh could just do things that Tommy couldn’t do.”
In the fall, Lee used every bit of his wrestling quickness and strength as a 5-foot-7-inch nose tackle on the football team. What he lacked in size he made up for with finesse, determination, and creativity.
“Two of the linemen went to double-team me and I was on my hands and knees,” Lee said, recalling a particular play. “I crawled underneath both of them and made the tackle in the backfield.”
His wrestling dominance is not the byproduct of constant intensity. He credits a lot of his success to his laid-back demeanor.
“I don’t like to get stressed about it, there’s no reason I need to really worry about anything,” Lee said. “When you start worrying then you start thinking, and that’s when things go wrong.”
Things went wrong for him in the 132-pound All-State title match last year against Matt Kelley of Foxborough. Lee was down by 3 points with just seconds to go.
“We were in the corner lamenting that we didn’t win the title,” said Shvartsman. “Then Josh had a little flurry.” Lee escaped late to earn a point, and kept fighting until the final whistle.
“[Kelley] thought that he won, but there was a second left in the match,” said Lee. “When he was on his knees, I literally just dove over him and ended up getting the 2 [points to tie] in the last second.”
When he pinned Kelley in double overtime, Lee secured his first All-State title. “Getting it after such a long time, it was such a relief,” said Lee. “I felt on top of the world.”
He leads by example, and has helped grow the team from eight wrestlers his freshman year to over 20. Many are football players that came out last year and stuck with it. For the first time in his high school career, Lee’s individual effort will contribute to achieving team goals.
“It was always just, ‘I hope I win my match, I hope I win this tournament,’” said Lee. “Now looking at this team, seeing the numbers, seeing the skill, it makes me happy to say, ‘We can actually win.’”
Still, he has one individual mission left after losing to Connecticut champ Baltazar Gonzalez of Ellis Tech in last year’s 132-pound New England final.
“Our goal is [for him] to win the New England title this year,” said Shvartsman. “I think this is the last step for him.”
Lee’s stated goal is to go undefeated and be the top wrestler in the region.
“It’s not what you’re supposed to think, but I just want to win . . . everything. That’s the only reason I wrestle.”Tom Petrini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.