The glory of winning a state championship slowly faded for Mesa Ridge's Deric Cruz, and the realization of what lay ahead of him set in. If the 195-pound senior doesn't repeat to become the program's first back-to-back champion in four weeks, it will certainly come as a blow to him.
He feared it at first. Then, embraced it.
"At the beginning of the season it was pretty rough," Cruz said. "I didn't feel like wrestling because I didn't want to lose. But after I got a couple of losses, I just worked harder and harder.
"(I knew) there were other people working harder than me out there, so I started working hard, and it turns out working harder is the way to go."
Now Cruz is of the extremely dangerous variety: A state champ with something more to prove.
Ranked fourth in 4A 195s by On The Mat, Cruz redeemed an early season loss to 4A No. 2 Oliver Neumann with a 6-4 decision in the finals of the Colorado Springs Metro Championships on Saturday. It was the senior's first title at the tournament after finishing runner-up the past two seasons.
"I feel like I've learned from all my mistakes over the past years," Cruz said afterward. "This year, I'm finally a champ here."
Boy that must feel good to say.
Cruz lost eight of his first 29 matches this season, but came into the Metro Championships with no signs of conceding the 4A 195 title.
He had pins over Coronado's Griffin Moncher and Falcon's Grant McCluan, and then beat Manitou Springs' Atticus Fredrickson 5-2 in the semifinals.
In the 1-vs.-2 seed finale, underdog Cruz jumped out to a 6-1 lead before fending off Neumann's bigger shots down the stretch.
But certainly effective.
"He's steady," Grizzlies coach Rob Braaten said. "He doesn't put himself in a bad spot. He stays away from giving up those big chunks of points on the other side, so that way he can win those matches by a couple points."
That was the style when he rose meteorically to knock off top-seed Donavon Rincon of Pueblo County at the state tournament a year ago, before beating Cheyenne Mountain's Zach Garrard 3-2 in the finals.
There's more work to be done to get No. 2.
"I guess I won the (Metros) tournament, it was great," Cruz said, "but I have better goals to do."
Cruz and Samuel Freeman won the program's first state titles last season.