ALEDO -- Forty-five times a season ago, Mercer County senior wrestler Zach Nelson trudged to the center of the mat before getting his right hand raised by the official.|
The one time that did not happen sticks with Nelson.
A dominant season that featured a No. 1 state ranking with regional and sectional titles seems so insignificant because of the one loss on Nelson's record. the triumphs and accolades are overshadowed by a 3-2 loss to Sterling Newman's Brian Bahrs in the 152-pound state title match.
"Out of all those matches, that's the one that sticks out," Nelson said. "That's definitely a dent."
Even those inside the Mercer County wrestling room agree.
"He had an unbelievable season," Mercer County coach Jeremy Finch said. "But at the end of the day, he had a goal. And that goal was to be the state champion."
Falling short of that goal for a second consecutive season remains.
"To be honest, there's not a day goes by that I don't think about it," Nelson said. "Every time I do think about it, I think about what I can do to not let it happen again."
Known as a wrestler with excellent technique who is solid on his feet, Nelson entered the state finals with a 41-0 record. Two of those wins were against Bahrs, who won the 152-state title two years earlier.
Midway through the third period, it appeared as though Nelson would snag a third victory and the state title when he gained a 2-1 lead after Bahrs got whistled for his second stall. With 20 seconds left, Bahrs then snagged a takedown to grab a 3-2 advantage .
As the clock ticked down, Nelson nearly had a reversal and escape, but could not score on either move. The buzzer sounded, ending Nelson's championship run.
"I gave 100 percent effort, but I feel like I could have done more," Nelson said. "That's my main goal this year."
The goal is a state championship with a caveat.
"Straight dominance," Nelson said.
Right now, that seems possible.
"He's worked so hard," Finch said. "It's his time now."
Twice before, it seemed to be Nelson's time. In both title matches, he feel short.
As a sophomore, he lost to Braidwood Reed-Custer's Billy Chancey, a three-time finalist and two-time champion, by a 5-0 decision. Everyone knows what happened last year.
That loss is the toughest one.
"It was right there. I couldn't capture that last point. But that's how it goes," Nelson said. "When I think about it, I think on why I even let that happen. I should've never put myself in that position."
At the same time, the loss triggered something inside Nelson.
"It made him hungry," Finch said. "I know how motivated he is."
Whenever Nelson needs an extra push, all he needs to do is reflect on his one loss last season.
The result is something he cannot forget.
"It's been a long time since that happened," Nelson said. "I can't wait to get back on the mat and take out my frustration on my opponents."