Manuel Lopez knows the feeling of being close. It hasn't sat well with him for the past year.
He has one more chance to make sure it doesn't stay with him for the rest of his life.
Lopez, a senior at Bluffton High School, enters today's S.C. High School League Individual Championships as the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 160 pounds. His goal, of course, is to finish off his career with a state title Saturday, when the two-day event concludes.
He doesn't need to look far for motivation -- the Bobcats' loss last season in the Lower State team duals still stings. And his brother, David Lopez, can remind him how a runner-up finish feels -- David took second in the individual championships as a senior last year.
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Two days before he begins his quest at the Civic Center of Anderson, The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette talked to Lopez about his chances of returning to Bluffton as just the second state champion in school history.
Question: What's the best advice you've received about the state championships?
Answer: Wrestle every match like it's the state finals match, which my first match might be that actually. In the preseason rankings, my first match will be No. 1 vs. No. 2. (Randy Warren of West-Oak), my first opponent, was second in the state, and now I'm first. So I have to wrestle like it's the finals because it may turn out to be.
Q: As a team, the Bobcats struggled this year and missed the playoffs. Does that increase the importance to accomplish something individually?
A: Winning the state title is the only thing that would make my season. Nothing other than first would put a smile on my face. This whole season, I've thought about it. I thought a lot about last season and how we were so close as a team. I felt like a lot of this year would be on me, which it is. I still did everything I could for the team. But this season, my focus has been on that state title.
Q: How difficult can it be not to look ahead in this weekend's eight-man bracket?
A: That's one of the things that a lot of kids do -- they look at their whole route to the finals, and they don't worry about the match that's right in front of them. I'm not looking ahead. My primary target is my first match.
Q: You enter as the top seed after an emotional win last weekend at Lower State -- have you come down off that high yet?
A: Yeah, I have, but I'm just going to keep rolling off the momentum that gave me. I'm just trying to stay focused and go into this weekend with the right mind-set.
Q: Any nerves yet?
A: Not yet. I might have some later. Right now, I'm just trying to stay focused and come out on top.
Q: Not a lot of people in the wrestling world may have expected you to be the top-ranked guy this late in the season. What's been the key to your improvement?
A: I've been putting in extra time. Before anyone was in the wrestling room this year, Braden Putich and I were here with coaches getting individual attention. That helped a lot. I was wrestling all summer. I think that stuff helped me improve and become the wrestler that I've been this year.
Q: You told me before the season started you were going to win state -- why so confident?
A: My brother (David) went 1-2 in his junior year at state, just like me, and then he came back his senior year and was in the state finals and almost won it. Seeing that, that made me think I can do the same thing -- except I'm going to win it.
Q: Have you sought advice from him?
A: Not really actually, because I believe that every match is different.
Q: What is your background with wrestling?
A: I started wrestling in eighth grade, but I skipped freshman year. And I can't give you a solid reason why I did that. But I missed it, so I came back.
Q: What drew you back?
A: It's basically one-on-one. Your school gives you permission to beat the (crap) out of someone from another school. How often are you allowed to do that?