The haunting memory of being pinned in the final of the 112-pound weight class at the state championships two seasons ago continues to motivate Countryside wrestler Kyle Grueninger.
After that defeat to Braddock's Eric Chandler, Grueninger, a sophomore at the time, vowed not one, but two return trips to the state title match.
"I wasn't happy," Grueninger said. "I got worked by him. He beat me, and I didn't have a chance. I laid an egg, and since that point I've made it my mission to win a state title as a junior and a senior."
Last season, he fulfilled half of that goal, avenging the loss to Chandler by winning a 4-2 decision over the previously undefeated wrestler in the 112-pound final.
On Friday, Grueninger, the Times' co-Wrestler of the Year last season, will begin leg two in his quest for the double when the Cougars host the Pinellas County Duals featuring 10 local squads.
"I want to throw those two fingers up," said Grueninger, who became the first county wrestler to win a state title since the Cougars' Greg Vernon (125 pounds) accomplished the feat in 2005. "The first one is always the best, but a second would be just as good. That's when you know that you're a champion, when you can come back and defend your title."
Last year, a leg injury threatened to derail Grueninger's championship run before it started. He broke his left ankle in a pickup summer basketball game and missed three months of training. Grueninger wore an ankle brace every match his junior season.
"I felt weird when I didn't have it on," he said. "The ankle still hurt the whole season. I always had problems with it."
Entering his senior year, a healthy Grueninger, who will jump up in weight to the 119-pound division, is looking not only to repeat as state champion, but to finish the year undefeated. He came close last season, going 50-2.
"He's hungry. He's determined," Countryside coach Mark Prince said. "He's the most aggressive kid I've got, and he's been the most aggressive kid I've had over the past two or three years. And that shows. He's been in the state finals the past two seasons.
"There have been guys with better technique on the team but nobody with his desire and determination."