MONTROSE - Levi Gross was close last year.
But no cigar.
As a freshman, Gross was a win away from going to state.
"One match away last year," he said.
Gross took that point-blank painful experience in 2012 and used it to fuel the fire this season.
Now a Montezuma-Cortez sophomore, Gross claimed his spot in Denver with a runner-up regional finish at 120 pounds Saturday.
"It's awesome. I've been working all season for this," he said. "Being second-place going in this year, it's just awesome. It's great."
Gross (22-9) has major momentum going into the Colorado High School Activities Association 4A State Championships on Thursday at the Pepsi Center.
The technically sound grappler won a Southwestern League title and almost won a regional championship at Montrose High School.
Summit's Nick Wittrock scored an early takedown to put Gross in an early 2-0 hole. The quick-strike wrestlers battled tight the rest of the way. Gross escaped from Wittrock twice, but couldn't convert a much needed takedown. Wittrock held off Gross with a 5-2 decision.
While a regional title would have been great, Gross is embracing his opportunity to compete at the state's highest level this week.
"I'm excited and nervous at the same time," he said. "I'm just going to go up there and give it all I got, and see what I can do up there."
Ever since sixth-grade when Gross started wrestling, he has dreamed of competing and placing at state. If a podium spot doesn't come this season, then that will just add more fuel to the fire the next two years.
"I definitely want to place at state," he said.
Gross is a varsity member of Montezuma-Cortez's very successful golf team and has wrestled in offseason tournaments at large arenas like the Pepsi Center. Gross is accustomed to performing on a big stage.
"I like the competition," he said. "We go to the Rocky Mountain Nationals (wrestling tourney). It's tough up there. It really helps (for state)."
State wrestling begins Thursday with the 4A preliminaries at 7:15 p.m.