You could call wrestler Hayden Carroll a kingmaker.
While his wish is to win his own state crown, the Mount Pleasant senior has a history of encountering championship talent well before he gets to the state tournament.
For three years, Carroll has lost in the conference tournament finals to the eventual state champion in his weight class. This year Carroll hopes his own skill, work ethic and mental preparation will allow him to prevail at the state's ultimate competition.
Carroll started wrestling in AAU tournaments at 7 years old. He says he won a "few" state championships between then and his middle school years.
Wrestling at 83 pounds at Mount Pleasant Middle, Carroll finished third in the conference as a seventh-grader and in second place when he was in eighth grade.
When Carroll entered high school, he was all of 96 pounds. His freshman year, he wrestled plenty of kids bigger and stronger than he, even in the 103-pound weight class.
"It was a big change; the competition changed insanely," said Carroll. "It went from (wrestlers) being good to being good and strong and knowing what to do and when to do it."
Carroll finished his freshman year with a 25-20 record. In the 1A/2A Rocky River Conference tournament finals, Carroll lost to Monroe's John Bention, who eventually won the state championship.
Another loss to would-be state champ Bention in the following year's conference final preceded a more gratifying end to Carroll's season. He placed third at regionals and qualified for his first state tournament, where he lost two of three matches to finish with a 40-13 overall record.
Carroll was taken aback by the glamour of the state tourney, something he would build on for the following season.
"Being at states was so amazing," he said. "You see everyone there. It's a surreal moment. It's breathtaking. I was in awe. I got put out of tournament and (Mount Pleasant coach Greg Hinson) told me I did well and the next year he expected me to go further."
Carroll's improvement was evident. Moving up to 112 pounds, he won his first 18 matches before losing in the finals of his team's home tournament, the Mount Pleasant Invitational.
With Mount Pleasant in the South Piedmont 3A, Carroll headed to the conference tournament with three regular-season tournament championships in his portfolio. Still, Carroll couldn't upend Jay M. Robinson's Garrison White in the final match. White went on to be the 3A state champ.
After another third-place finish at regionals, Carroll advanced to the state tournament, where he lost his first-round match 16-0 to Havelock's Matt Bogard. Relegated to the consolation bracket, Carroll won three straight matches to meet again with Bogard, to whom he lost 3-0 to finish fifth.
"That says a lot about him coming back," said Hinson. "So many times a kid loses that first match and they lose right again. That was not the case for him."
A football player through his junior year at Mount Pleasant, Carroll chose not to play this season so he could concentrate on wrestling. He still attended every game to cheer on twin brother Hunter, a tight end and a wrestling teammate at 140 pounds.
In addition to his gratitude toward Hinson's leadership, Carroll credits the instruction of off-season mentor Todd Fulk for some new moves he's learned and the extra mat experience he's gained.
His coaches, and the support of drill partner Matt Newman, a 125-pound junior, have helped Carroll to a 14-2 start to this season in his 119-pound weight class. He recently eclipsed 120 wins for his career and is ranked No. 1 in 3A by retrorankings.com in his weight.
Last week, Carroll won the Mount Pleasant Invitational Tournament, a first for him. He also was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler.