Ever since Ian Wilson was a freshman, he dreamed of stepping onto the podium at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament.
When it finally happened in 2011, the Liberty wrestler wanted to move up from his fourth-place finish at 140 pounds.
"It was pretty surreal, getting to place at state," Wilson said. "Ever since I was a freshman, I wished I could be there. It seemed so impossible at the start of my freshman year. But after having a taste of it last year, I felt like I wanted more."
Wilson's chance to move up begins at the Sunrise Region tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Las Vegas High. The Sunset tournament begins Friday at Durango, with finals for both regions set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The 145-pound senior won a region title last year after finishing third as a sophomore. Bringing back that experience was crucial for the Patriots, who have six seniors and only two four-year wrestlers.
On the mat, Wilson has taken well to his leadership responsibilities, Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
"Ian will take a lot of (the underclassmen) and mentor somebody on the side," the fourth-year coach said. "He'll reinforce the technique that we're teaching, and he keeps motivating them in practice. It's how wrestling teams work: The seniors, the leaders, are exceptional kids, and they push those young kids so that by the time the young ones become seniors, they can do the same things they saw the older ones do."
The leadership role keeps Wilson, who has posted a school-high 150 wins, motivated to be better each week rather than resting on his accolades.
"I have kids looking up to me, and I know they're going to be better than me, so I have to keep working hard," Wilson said. "I have to get better every time I step on the mat."
At 55-6 with 39 pins in his senior year, Wilson has set a single-season record for wins in Liberty's nine-year program history. He is one of 14 state qualifiers the school has produced and one of three fourth-place finishers in 2011.
For Wilson, the losses prove more beneficial than the wins, accomplishments and accolades.
"I don't like to get upset and throw stuff after I lose," he said. "I look at them and try to learn from them, to get better. I feel frustrated for a few minutes, and then I get back in and try to get better."
Wilson also has excelled off the mat.
"He is a great kid; he's the kind of kid that you'd want to date your daughter," Muraco said. "He's very well-behaved in school, gets great grades. He's obviously an exceptional athlete, and he does everything a coach would want as a potential leader on the team."
Defending Sunrise champion Green Valley is among the favorites to win this week, and two-time defending state champion Las Vegas adds to a crowded regional field. But Muraco is confident the Patriots, led by Wilson, can compete for the ultimate prize.
"We're hoping to keep close to those teams, and if we can finish in the top three at region, then get as many people as we can to state, I'll feel good about what we've done," Muraco said. "We just want to get as many qualifiers to state as we can."
Liberty hopes to make up for a disappointing end to the regular season after a rout by the Southeast League champion Gators, and the Patriots know that a strong postseason run will more than make up for any dual-meet disappointments.
"Hopefully we can place pretty high at regionals," Wilson said. "It all comes down to these last two weeks."
Contact reporter Sean Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430.