Clay Bunker placed fifth at the Class 4A state wrestling meet last year but he wasn't happy. Actually, he was fuming.
The Erie senior is back for his final season and this time, he intends to go all the way.
"It's like an itch," Bunker said. "It doesn't go anywhere unless you do something about it."
His goal was to be champion last year, and Bunker has been a semifinalist two years straight. He believes if he can make it past the semis, the title is his.
"If I win that match, my mindset is I'm going to take state," Bunker said. "I'm gonna beat the person that steps on the mat. When I win that semifinal match, I'm not gonna let anything get in my way of walking off the mat a state champion."
Tough on his feet and the Tigers' emotional leader, Bunker plans to start at 152 pounds for the first part of the season, then move down to 145 in the second half. He hasn't stopped wrestling since the end of last season, spending all his time at camps and tournaments.
Tigers head coach Steve Gratton said he's confident Bunker will attain his goal.
"Clay really does want to win a state championship," Gratton said. "For Clay, anything less than that would disappointing."
Just as Bunker did, sophomore teammate Brandon Wetsch finished fifth at state last year. He was a 103-pounder then, but will move to 113 this year.
Wetsch said his freshman season was filled with new experiences and his only goal was to make it to state. He didn't care if he placed.
But his sophomore year, he intends to kick it up a notch. He wants to at least place higher than he did as a freshman.
"I want to go into it a little tougher than I did last year, bring a little more fire to the plate," Wetsch said. "I want to go in and be better, bigger, badder than I was last year."
In his element on the ground, Wetsch has been stepping up the effort and even the brutality a little to start the season. It's all been a part of the increased offensive mentality coach Gratton is trying to instill in the sophomore, particularly on his feet.
"When he figures it out that you win taking down your opponent, that's when he's gonna be at the next level," Gratton said. "He's there, he does it. But then he'll have a mental lapse and he'll go back to defense."
Wetsch is developing that mentality, and with it his shots, explosive stand-ups and chain wrestling.
"It's mostly the mindset," Wetsch said. "I have two minutes. If I'm on bottom it doesn't matter if I go to my stomach, the whole idea is to get up and continue to score, score, score. It's always about scoring."
The Tigers are tougher at the lighter weights, and with the new weight class setup, their dual lineup took a hit.
They'll rely heavily on Bunker, Wetsch and sophomore Ladd Bunker. As far as Gratton is concerned, the sky's the limit for the pair who finished fifth a year ago.
"I expect them to be state champions," Gratton said. "And they both expect the same thing from themselves."