Steven Gregory used to be a .500 wrestler. Sometimes it's hard for him to believe that was two years ago.
He got his start in the sport early in grade school. Some youth success followed — and it didn't hurt that his father, Steve, was a former state place winner at Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson before competing at Wayne State. But by the time the younger Gregory finished his sophomore year at Treynor, the 182-pounder still hadn't survived the sectional round.
Now 24 months later, Gregory remains at 182 but has transformed into a state championship contender. Rated No. 5 in Iowa's Class 1-A, the senior is coming off a sectional title and owns a 44-2 record. Once content to collect any win he could, he spent much of this winter grappling up a weight if it meant a tougher match.
"My goal is to dominate whoever steps out on the mat with me," Gregory said. "If you don't think you're the best wrestler out there, you're not going to be."
How did this metamorphosis happen? A lot of pushing — from others, as well as himself. Treynor coach Dean Leaders recalls a boy who looked the part of good wrestler when he took over the program last season. He was already strong, 6-foot-1 and had good technical skills. What he needed was some direction and offseason commitment.
After going 20-15 as a sophomore, Gregory was Treynor's lone state qualifier last February and ended 41-7. He was the first Cardinal to win in the first round at state since 2003, and the first to win a state match of any kind since 2006.
"He's such an interesting wrestler to be around because I don't think his heart rate ever goes above 70 beats per minute," Leaders said. "He just never gets elevated, never gets excited — he just does his job. And he looks really ready."
With a taste for state success, Steven and junior brother Sam spent part of almost every spring and summer day on a mat.
Leaders had to send them home on numerous occasions in the summer after hours of work.
The brothers continue to sharpen each other this week as Treynor's two district qualifiers will try for state berths Saturday in Underwood. Sam — a 170-pound sectional runner-up with a 38-4 record — and Steven are regular workout partners who often endure their toughest matches during practice.
"I usually have to break up fights about every night," Leaders said with a laugh. "You can just about set your watch by it: They'll warm up and start drilling, then that escalates and gets a little more intense. Then there's an altercation about 4:30 every day."
The siblings' contrasting styles have forced Steven to evolve. Known for his relentless and frenzied approach, Sam provides a constant challenge for his more measured and controlled brother. Once known mostly for his top-position prowess, Steven has made enough improvement on his feet to think realistically about a long upcoming week in Des Moines.
Now considering wrestling in college, he's surrendered three takedowns all year. Most of his bouts have ended by pin.
"My goal this year is to win a state championship," Gregory said. "Senior year, that should be anybody's goal is to reach that top level. I really want to make it to that state final and go from there. We've been putting a year's work in."