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Victoria East wrestler prepared for state tournament

By bY CLAY WHITTINGTON - CWHITTINGTON@VICAD.COM
Feb. 23, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 23, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.

Michael Pena moves into position against his opponent Juilian Montez during practice at the VISD Events Center Gym. Both boy and girl athletes meet at the facility at 8 AM for practice. Pena is advancing to the state wrestling  meet.FRANK TILLEY/FTILLEY@VICAD.COM

Michael Pena's wrestling coach considers him a natural.

Pena contributes much of his success to his coach.

Regardless, neither would be experiencing their first trip to the state wrestling tournament without each other.

After playing virtually every sport he could growing up and subsequently becoming bored, Victoria East's Pena discovered wrestling during his sophomore year.

Instantly, he fell in love.

In his first season, Pena advanced to the regional tournament under the tutelage of Titans head coach Fred Mease.

It was at that competition, Pena dedicated himself to return the favor.

"I wanted to be the first one for this coach to take to state," Pena said. "And I did it."

With Mease instructing from across the mat, the 113-pound senior will begin the final chapter of his high school career Friday morning at Austin ISD's Delco Arena, home of the University Interscholastic League Wrestling State Tournament.

While the opening match against Keller Fossil Ridge junior Dammion Heard marks the accomplishment of a long-time goal for Pena, it is equally meaningful to Mease.

"(I feel) outstanding," the coach said. "I feel like he has accomplished something, and I've accomplished something."

Following two consecutive trips to regionals in 2010 and 2011, Pena finished second at the District 30-5A meet before securing his spot at state with a fourth-place finish at the Region IV tournament.

"I was excited, and it made my coach excited, which made me even happier," Pena said of qualifying for state.

For the season, Pena posted an overall record of 26-8.

"It got harder every step of the way," Pena said.

And it will not get any easier in Austin.

Heard, Pena's opening-round opponent, won the Region II championship and is undefeated on the season (39-0).

The reason Pena loves the sport, however, is because he does not need to concern himself with teammates or even his opponent. The only thing he must focus on is himself.

"It is all about you," Pena said. "It's about your mistakes, and only you can determine your outcome."

With the high level of competition in attendence, Pena's coach believes he will need to be virtually flawless in order to return home with a championship.

"He must be aggressive and not make mistakes," Mease said.

Despite the outcome of the matches, the strong relationship between the two will be altered over the weekend as their competitive partnership comes to an end.

"He's the greatest coach I've ever had," Pena said.

Although Pena's high school career will conclude, he intends to continue involving himself with wrestling for years to come.

"Hopefully, I can become a coach," he said. "That's how much I love wrestling."

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