Lazar Agoev had a lot of things stacked against him when he began his wrestling career two seasons ago. Fairly new to the United States — his family having moved to Connecticut from Russia only a year prior — Agoev had much to learn off the mats, including grasping the English language.
A competitor in the martial art of judo, Agoev had some of the athleticism that carries over into wrestling. But with significant rule differences between the sports, his judo experience also made wrestling a challenge to learn.
And most of his competitors had many more years of wrestling experience.
To top it off, Agoev joined the Ridgefield High wrestling team a couple of weeks into his junior season last winter and had to play more catch-up while learning the sport on the fly.
But Agoev proved a quick study. After a bit of a slow start, he made quick strides and reached the Class LL state finals at 152 pounds, dropping a 6-2 decision to Fairfield Warde's Kris Gjinaj in the championship match.
As a senior this season, Agoev was more impressive. Competing at 160 pounds, Agoev won FCIAC and Class LL state championships before finishing fourth at the State Open. Both of his losses in the Open came by just one point.
Agoev qualified for the New England championships but did not place, losing to the eventual champion, who also had a judo background.
“It’s fun to have watched him evolve,” Ridgefield head coach Travis Tiger said after Agoev won his Class LL state title with a 7-6 decision over Fairfield Prep’s Dean Tsiranides.
Agoev’s family first lived in Redding and Agoev attended Joel Barlow High School. He would stay after school to do his homework and look in at the wrestling practice room.
“I was kind of jealous because I knew judo,” Agoev said.
The following year, his family relocated to Ridgefield and Agoev ventured into the Ridgefield High practice room to give wrestling a try.
“And next thing we know there are kids flying in the air,” Tiger said of Agoev’s practice opponents.
While Agoev had strength and skill, he was also a novice in other areas. For example, there are certain moves, including chokes, that are allowed in judo but not wrestling.
“I couldn’t adjust my judo skills. I was pretty bad the first month,” Agoev recalled.
Agoev, in fact, was warned and nearly disqualified for illegal moves in his early matches.
“I kept losing points,” said Agoev, adding that in his first tournament win last season he built a lead on takedowns and had to stall in order to not make a mistake and hang onto the lead.
“It’s hard to start a new sport at my age,” said Agoev, some of whose opponents had been wrestling for a decade.
“You don’t have to use the other guy’s weight against them. You have to control your own weight,” Agoev said, comparing judo to wrestling.
Shooting is one move wrestlers use to take down opponents by the lower half of their bodies. Agoev wasn’t accustomed to that approach, and it worked against him once wrestlers became familiar with his skillset.
“Not a lot of guys have a judo background and you have to get used to that,” Agoev said. “When they started wrestling against me they would tie up. That’s the biggest mistake wrestling against me.”
It was in rematch bouts against top wrestlers that Agoev had his most trouble.
“This year they never tied up with me. It was way tougher this year,” he said.
Despite opponents' adjustments, Agoev managed to pile up the wins. He went 43-10 with 34 pins this season, ending his brief high school career with a 71-22 record and 50 pins.
A better understanding of English helped Agoev. Initially, he had to stop to look at his coaches to understand them. As his high school career unfolded, he was able to follow advice from coaches while keeping some focus on the mat.
“He learned every day. He picks things up quickly,” Ridgefield assistant coach Gary Tiger said. “We focused a lot this season on being able to transition to wrestling moves because we knew coaches and wrestlers were focused on stopping his throws. The further along he went the more his opponents were ready for him, but he was able to go to traditional wrestling. He is a winner and he is intelligent so he figured out how to win.”
A high honors student, Agoev is applying to schools such as Stanford and MIT, said Gary Tiger.
As Agoev discovered, there was more to wrestling than matches.
“Not only do you have to compete and be tougher than the other guys, you have to lose weight and keep your weight down,” Agoev said.
Keeping Agoev down has been a struggle for his counterparts since he picked up the sport.
“Having Lazar come in with no wrestling experience 15 months ago, he has given all of our inexperienced and experienced wrestlers a real belief that they too can be successful,” Gary Tiger said. “Although he still relied heavily on his judo background, he also soaked up all the knowledge he could get on wrestling to add those skills to his arsenal. And his big moves and throws certainly brought a great deal of energy and excitement to the team this year.”