Mark Taijeron got on a roll at the right time.
The Merced High junior avenged two losses earlier in the season to Turlock's Isaac Bertalotto with wins over the Bulldog sophomore at the Central California Conference and Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1A championships.
With a regained confidence, Taijeron went on to win the 132-pound Sac-Joaquin Section Masters championship and went on to finish 3-2 at the CIF State Tournament.
After a 42-10 season, Taijeron is the Sun-Star Wrestler of the Year.
"It's still setting in that I went that far," Taijeron said. "It's a good feeling. I feel I had a good season. Even though there was some ups and downs, when it mattered I mostly stayed consistent."
Taijeron's season played out in three chapters.
He started the season off hot, followed by a lull during the middle of the season where Taijeron lost some tough, close matches against some very good wrestlers.
Taijeron then finished strong, putting together a string of wins at the end of the season that led him to a CCC, divisional and section title.
Taijeron attributes the late-season surge to one thing.
"Confidence plays a big role in wrestling," he said. "You can have all the ability to be great, but if you don't believe in yourself it won't matter. When you believe you can take a kid down it makes it easier."
Taijeron admits he was a bit shaken when he lost to El Camino Real's Ali Naser in a tournament.
"He took me down at will," he said. "After that match I lost some confidence. I hadn't experienced a loss like that probably since I was a freshman or in eighth grade. It made me realize how much better I needed to get."
Merced coach Clayton Schneider said his midseason struggles had a lot to do with the high level of competition Taijeron was facing every weekend at tournaments.
"He wrestled a ton of good kids," Schneider said. "All his losses were to state-ranked kids. We just kept preaching to him, wrestle the way you can and good things will happen."
Good things did happen in the postseason.
It started at the CCC tournament when Taijeron wrestled his way to a smart, tight 5-2 victory over Bertalotto, who went on to finish eighth at state.
"That win was really big," Taijeron said. "It boosted my confidence and I rode that through all the way to Masters."
The next week, Taijeron opened up offensively and dominated Bertalotto in a 16-8 win over Bertalotto at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1A championship.
Schneider knew early in the match Taijeron was on his game.
"I'd say he was pulling the trigger," Schneider said. "When he gets it going offensively, when he does that, I know he's clicking. When he's hanging back and waiting for things to happen he's not going good. It's not really something you can see when he's warming up or talking to him. It's just a matter of when he gets on the mat. If he's offensive he's in good shape."
Taijeron went on to win a Masters title, but going 3-2 at state and falling short of his goal of a medal will fuel his motivation this offseason.
"I want to place in the top eight," Taijeron said. "I was wrestling the other night, helping coach Schneider with the little kids. I already miss the real matches."