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AUSTIN EDITION Wrestler ready to put the past in the past

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As Dave Cunningham sat in the seats of the Xcel Energy Center in early March, he found it difficult to keep his eyes on the wrestling mat.

He felt he should have been there, or at least had the opportunity to be there.

And when Centennial High School's Tim Matheson had his hand raised after the Class AAA 152-pound championship match, Cunningham felt more pain than anger.

After all, Cunningham had beaten Matheson less than a month prior. But Cunningham wasn't able to make it out of his section in 2004-05, a year after he had qualified for the state tournament as a sophomore.

"It hurt," Cunningham said of watching Matheson win. "I felt like I should have been up there (on the awards stand)."

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The end of last season was so painful for Cunningham, it kept him from setting foot on a wrestling mat over the summer.

He increased his weight training, but avoided the summer freestyle tournament circuit at all costs.

"I did some extra conditioning work and some footwork (drills) -- things that I lacked last year," said Cunningham. "After the way the season ended, it just didn't feel right to go back on the mat (in the summer). I stayed away and that helped me clear my mind and re-dedicate and re-focus myself."

Cunningham's brothers, Mike and Joe, helped him with that process, too. Mike and Joe both wrestled at state for Austin High in 2000, Mike as a senior, Joe as a sophomore. Mike advanced all the way to the 145-pound state title match, where he fell 7-3.

Though neither Mike nor Joe live in Austin, Dave Cunningham said his brothers make a point of attending as many of his matches as they can.

"They travel all around the state to watch me," said Dave Cunningham, who will wrestle at 160 or 171 this season. "They're pretty dedicated.

"I look to Joe for help with weight and strength training. Mike, he's the great wrestler of us three, so I look to him for a lot of advice."

Cunningham's failure to qualify for state as a junior could spell trouble for any opponents this season.

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"The goal this year is not just to qualify, but to win the whole thing," he said. "The only way I can leave with no regrets is to win the whole thing."

Jason Feldman is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at jfeldman@postbulletin.com.

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