ALEDO -- It's a habit that will never grow old for Mercer County senior Zach Nelson.
For the fourth time in the space of a year, Nelson got to take in a welcome-home ceremony at his high school's gymnasium to mark the end of another successful sports season -- three times for wrestling, and once for football.
Last year, Nelson and his Golden Eagle teammates were feted after a third-place finish at the IHSA Class 1A State Dual Team Tournament. This past November, he got to enjoy the football team's welcome home after it went 14-0 and won the 2A state crown.
This wrestling season he was honored twice -- first after winning the 152-pound individual Class 1A state championship, and then on Sunday, when the Mercer County faithful turned out to pay tribute to the Golden Eagles' 1A state runner-up squad.
"It's kind of hard, walking in here knowing this is my last welcome-home ceremony,'' said Nelson, "but I'm looking at the positives, like what a career all of us seniors have had.''
Even though Mercer County's 24-4 season ended just short of its ultimate goal, falling 35-25 to traditional state power Dakota in Saturday night's championship match, Nelson feels the Golden Eagles still have plenty to be proud of.
"We went out there knowing we were considered the underdog,'' he said. "We definitely battled, and had them worried for awhile. It was awesome to test them like that, and I hope, like in football, the younger guys look at what we've accomplished this year and have that in mind when they go back down there and improve on this.''
Senior 145-pounder Logan Snyder, one of the Eagles' co-captains with Nelson, Jon Ricke, Brandon Schroeder and Jesse Snyder, let his emotions show while addressing the crowd Sunday.
"It's pretty awesome,'' he said. "It's great to know we've got great backing in the community, and the fans support us. It's a great feeling.''
Sophomore 138-pounder Tristen Finch, who was honored along with Nelson after his second-place individual state finish, enjoyed the opportunity to show off the fruits of the Golden Eagles' collective labors before the hometown crowd.
"It's good to come back and present everyone with the hardware,'' said the son of Mercer County head coach and former Aledo wrestling standout Jeremy Finch, who added of his individual welcome-home experience, "That was cool, too. It showed how our individuals can be as successful as the team, and shows what we want to push for.
"This group of seniors pushed us to be where we are, and this makes us strive to be the best. We want to come back strong next year.''