Unlike horseshoes and hand grenades, close doesn't count in wrestling.
For Valparaiso's Derrick Suttles, his near misses culminated in the first round of last year's Merrillville Semistate, where he dropped a one-point decision to South Bend Clay's Jaylin Allen.
A week later, Allen finished second in the state finals.
"I was that close," Suttles said. "I've been in that situation since my sophomore year. I'd wrestle ranked guys, and I was close to beating them, but I couldn't quite do it."
Wrestling most of his junior season with torn meniscus in his knee, he put off arthroscopic surgery in order to stay on the mat. Motivated by his litany of narrow defeats and the urgency of his final year, Suttles pushed himself to get over the proverbial hump as a senior.
"He's starting to put things together," Vikings coach Mark Line said. "He's gained some confidence in himself that I'm not sure was always there. I think some of it's maturity, maybe believing in himself more. You could see it in his face, his body language (last year). He got in those (tight) situations, and he kind of panicked. Now he's wrestling more relaxed. If he's down one in a match, he realizes he's got time."
As the calendar turns to 2014, Suttles stands a sturdy 28-3. His three losses have come by a total of five points, including a one-pointer to Penn's fourth-ranked Kobe Woods.
"I definitely feel a lot more confident," Suttles said. "I worked hard in the summer. I feel I can hit my moves without worrying about getting stuck or caught. I'm strong enough, athletic enough, quick enough to get out of that position. It's my senior year. I want to make it the best I can."
The physical side of the sport has never been an issue for the muscular Suttles. He came out for wrestling in the middle of his eighth grade season and finished third in the conference on a month's experience.
"I didn't know how to do anything other than hip toss and lay on top of the guy," he said.
Under the direction of former Valpo coach Jim Smith and now Line, he's become much more than just a thrower.
"When I got into high school, I actually started learning moves," said Suttles, whose junior brother Ian is the Vikings' heavyweight. "I have a couple moves that work really good, and if they don't, I can go to an ankle pick or slide-by. Coach Smith taught me a lot of good things. Coach Line is a great coach. He's great for Valpo. In a match, he always tells me to keep my ears open."
To date, Suttles remains unranked, but with the meat of Valpo's schedule and the postseason still ahead, Suttles will get ample opportunity to show he belongs.
"I think I can compete with anybody in the state," he said. "I'm good enough. I'm aiming for top three on the (state awards) podium, maybe a state title."
Suttles hopes he can parlay his success into a chance to wrestle in college with an eye on a law enforcement career.
"I think he wants to prove to himself, and to other people, what he can become, that he can go to the next level," Line said. "I think he can."
Like the team, Suttles has come a long way in his short time on the mat.
"I'm very proud to be a Valparaiso Viking," he said, "The coaches have told us all since our freshman year to leave the program in better shape than you found it. We've really made strides."