Moorhead - For such a macho testosterone-filled sport that wrestling is thought to be, there are few places where more emotion runs wild than the state tournament mat at the end of a match.
One arm goes up with a flex or scream, and another dangles in exhaustion with a million-mile stare and tears emerging. One wrestler runs to his coaches and families, and the other runs to the tunnel of the Xcel Energy Center, which will once again host this year's Minnesota individual state wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday.
"It never goes out of your mind," New York Mills 120-pounder Shane Novak said. "You think about it every day when you lose in the finals. The guy next to you just got the edge on you."
There was a long silence from Breckenridge-Campbell-Tintah wrestler Conrad Kondos. His silence described the feeling of coming so close to a state championship more than his words ever could.
"When you're so close to getting there, it just crushes you that you don't make it," Kondos said. "The only thing I wish looking back is that I worked harder. I wish I would have pushed myself an extra step to take that extra step on the podium. At the beginning of the season, you can't wait for it to start. When wrestling season starts, you can't wait for it to be over. When it's over, you can't wait for it to start again. When you lose out and you're done with the tournament, you just want wrestling to start again."
Just like Kondos, Fergus Falls senior and 113-pounder Abbot Aho lost last year in the semifinals. Aho laid on the mat to collect himself and ran out of the arena after losing.
"It's your six minutes," Aho said. "You can't blame anyone else but you. If you don't put in enough, it'll show at state. You get so close to what you've been working for all season and you just come up a little bit short. It's honestly the worst feeling in the world."
Aho - currently ranked third at 113 pounds in Class 2A by the website The Guillotine at 39-0 - and Kondos - ranked No. 5 at 113 pounds in Class 1A at 32-6 - return to state this season with a year of wondering what could have been under their belt.
The good news for Aho and Kondos is no one is born with their arm raised. Everyone is born crying. It's through knowing the feeling of losing that allows winning to taste so sweet.
Just ask Novak, who fell in the state championship at 112 pounds his sophomore year before winning state at 113 pounds last season in his fourth trip to state. The first thing Novak did after winning was hug his now 21-year-old brother Jordan, who had also lost in a championship match at state.
"We felt like I won it for both of us," Novak said. "When you win it, it's like you're on a cloud. Your dream came true. And it's almost better after having lost because you know exactly how the other guy is feeling. You're happy not to be him."
Novak is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A at 120 pounds at 36-4 on the season and will compete in his fifth and final state tournament, along with another returning state champion in Moorhead's Chase Morlock. Morlock is ranked second at 195 pounds in Class 3A at 39-1. Morlock remembers winning state, but he also remembers losing in the quarterfinals the year before.
"It was an awful feeling, but it's what drove me the next year," Morlock said. "Winning a state championship was the best feeling in the world. I knew what losing felt like. Winning makes everything you did in the past worth it."