By nearly any measure, Valley City High School senior Shane Undem has had a successful wrestling career.
The last three years, he's placed in all three trips to state. His trip two years ago made even more impressive by the quick turnaround from a reconstructive surgery on his knee the November before the season started. Last year, he had his first top-four finish.
But as he approaches the end of his time on the high school circuit, he's got one thing on his mind — a state title.
"It's the only thing he has yet to accomplish on his goal list," Valley City coach Aaron Larson said Monday as the team practiced.
It's a goal so much on Undem's mind that he made the decision several weeks ago to drop seven pounds from his weight during the season and go from the 152-pound weight class, where he was ranked third in state polls, down to 145 pounds.
He'll make his debut at the lower weight class on Saturday when he and the rest of the Hi-Liners attempt to qualify for state at the Eastern Dakota Conference regional tournament in Grand Forks.
"At 152, the top five to seven kids, they're all really tough, from the east and west, and it really just depends on who bring their A game that day," Undem said."I think at 145, I've just got a little better shot."
"At 152, I could hang with or beat anyone at that weight, but I'm just trying to get a little more of an edge."
It marks the beginning of the end for a senior who has left his mark on the program, both through his wins, but also his work ethic.
Undem's wrestling career started young, in third grade, by his recollection. At the urging of his parents, he tried basketball, but it didn't click.
"That was not for me. I could not make a hoop to save my life," Undem said with a laugh.
The second choice was wrestling, a sport that immediately hooked him.
Though he also has contributed to Valley City High School athletics as a member of the track and field and football teams, wrestling has always been his passion.
When VCHS coach Aaron Larson took over the program several year ago, Undem said he started wrestling more and more, and eventually made the varsity team in eighth grade.
That's not to say it was an easy road.
"I had to do a lot of extra camps for it to really set in for me," Undem said. "Some people it comes real natural to at first, others, they've got to work for it a bit."
Larson has watched the progression and credits it to Undem's work ethic.
"When he first started, he didn't have a lot of success," Larson said. "In sixth grade he probably had a losing record, in seventh grade he probably had a losing record, and he just worked really hard (to improve.) He outworks everyone else and that's where he's turned himself into an elite wrestler."
It was a work ethic that came out immensely two seasons ago ago with the knee injury, which originally came at the school's homecoming football game. He underwent surgery in early November, but was on the mat 10 weeks later.
"I was told by a coach who went through it before 'The biggest thing is going to be what's in your head. You can't get down on yourself,'" Undem said about the surgery. "I was thinking, 'Oh, no. I'm not going to go through that,' but really, it is your biggest adversary. You almost get depressed when you can't do anything anymore."
He instead harnessed the negative emotions and used them as motivation, with his goal being to get back on the mat, even if it meant being a little defiant of doctor's orders.
"Whatever the doctor said (to do), I'd up it a little more, go above and beyond what they would want," Undem said. He then laughs. "It's probably not recommended for everyone, but it worked for me. Just keep pushing."
He took eighth in state, then used the next offseason as a jumping point, traveling all over the country honing his mat skills.
"That year we went to Florida and I went to nationals in Iowa, and just went all over and did as much as I could to make up for lost time and it got me back on track to where I needed to be," Undem said.
The work ethic has led to his status as a three-time state placer. As a freshman, he took seventh place at 125 in the Class B tournament. He had his aforementioned eight place finish at 140 as a sophomore in Class A, and took fourth last year at 138.
But the work ethic is something Undem also applies to other parts of his life. Larson said Undem will finish his career as a four-time Academic All-State wrestler, a feat that requires a grade point average of at least 3.4.
"He's just a kid who does everything right in his life, whether it's school, wrestling. It doesn't matter what he's doing, he does it to the best of his ability," Larson said. "He makes coaching wrestling fun for me just because he does whatever you ask him to. If you could have 14 Shane Undems on your team, it'd make my job pretty easy."
Undem's faced numerous challenges this year, but ended the regular season with a match against Jamestown's Zane Braun, in what many thought would be a potential championship match at the state tournament later this month, and Undem welcomed the challege.
"Wrestling kids of higher calibers like that, for one, it points out things that you've done well this year, but even more, it points out what you need to work on for regionals and state coming up, whether it's your cardio, or technique or what," Undem said.
During the match, Undem in the middle of the weight loss plan to get him down to 145, a process that continued this week.
Larson said he wouldn't let one of his less experienced wrestlers go down a weight class this late in the season, but that Undem has enough experience to make the most of it.
Like many other challenges he's faced in his high school career, Undem looks at it simply as another small bump in the road.
"Most of it is a mental thing," he said. "If you think you can do it, you can get through it."