Caleb Miller knows all too well the heartbreak of defeat.
During his sophomore and junior wrestling seasons at Payson High School, he battled his way to the state championship rounds, only to be denied a title both times.
As a two-time state runner-up, Miller opened his senior season last fall knowing it would be his last opportunity to realize his personal goal of a state championship.
He admits there was self-imposed pressure to excel.
"Plenty of it," he said.
But, his iron will eventually serve as the catalyst that led him to the pinnacle of wrestling success Saturday evening in Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
There, Miller wrapped up his four-year varsity career by nailing down the 3A state 154-pound weight division title that had earlier seemed so elusive.
"Winning felt great. I've wanted (a state championship) for a long time," he said.
Entering the state showdown, the Rim grappler wasn't one of the favorites to earn the division title. His third-place finish in the East regional tournament one week earlier resulted in a less than advantageous seed into the bracket of 16 qualifiers.
Realizing he was a definite underdog, Miller stepped up his will to win.
"I felt very confident," he said.
In the opening round Friday morning, Miller took an early 9-0 lead over his Window Rock opponent, executing a series of moves he had honed in his previous state tournament appearances. Late in the first period, he cut loose with a lightning quick take down and fall to put an end to the suspense.
Later in the day, second-round action turned into a quirk of the unusual for both wrestlers. Catching many by surprise, Miller's San Manuel opponentwas disqualified for a uniform violation.
"That was different," Miller said.
Saturday's third-round action paired Miller against a top-seeded River Valley wrestler. Although the RV athlete might have been higher ranked, Miller easily bowled over his foe, pinning him in the first period. In winning, Miller used many of the same techniques including a bar-half he used in the opening round.
With a 3-0 record, Miller earned the privilege of participating in the weight division championship round Saturday evening.
He admits he was haunted by memories of his two previous losses.
Advancing from the tournament bracket opposite Miller was Show Low's Taylor Spader.
Before leaving Payson for the state championships, Miller identified Spader as one of his most formidable foes.
With hopes and dreams of his prep career on the line, Miller let out all the stops and dominated his Cougar counterpart from the onset. By match's end, Miller had forged out a 17-4 lead. The lopsided point total earned him a state crown by a major decision.
With the state triumph in hand, Miller plans on kicking back and savoring the victory for weeks to come. Then, he'll probably prepare for the Senior National Championships in April in Cleveland. There's also the possibility he'll be voted into the annual Arizona Coaches Association All-Star match held this spring.
Those two star clashes, he said, could mark the end of his wrestling career. After graduation, he plans on attending Phoenix College, but will probably focus his attention on playing football for the Bears. As a cornerback for the Longhorn football team the past two seasons, he's been an award-winning performer.
Although wrestling might soon be over, Miller said he'll never forget the thrills and hard work that went into his finally attaining a state championship.
The road to the title, he said, was a long, rugged one, but well worth the effort.