LONGMONT -- By now Kyle Couch must have the number "3" flying around in his head like some sort of taunting cartoon dream.
Entering his third season with the Mead High School wrestling team, the Mavericks junior has finish third at state twice. In his quest to win a state title and rid himself of the dreaded "3", Couch is hoping the third time is a charm.
"I just want to win a state championship," said Couch, who has now twice lost at state to the eventual champion.
As a freshman in 2011, Couch lost to Centauri's Micah Keys in the Class 3A 145-pound semifinals. Keys, a sophomore then, went on to win by pin in the championship match.
Last year at 152, Couch lost in the second round to Alamosa senior Dakota Curtis, who continued forward to win a major decision over Keys in the championship match.
A pair of tough draws has kept him out of the finals, but Couch bounced back each time. He defeated La Junta's Sean Maik 2-1 in the 2010 third-place match and fought his way through the consolation bracket before eventually defeating Buena Vista's John Lopez 6-3 to take third place in 2012.
"You've just gotta take every match like they're the state champion," Couch said. "You can't take any matches off."
The top wrestler in Mead High's young history doesn't take off many matches, if any. Boasting a 72-17 record through his first two seasons, Couch will face a new level of competition his junior year as the Mavericks are moving up to Class 4A.
Anticipating the jump, Couch has become stronger, faster, smarter and has improved his technique. Having wrestled since age 3, Couch is already a solid technical wrestler, which could be his saving grace when facing bigger opponents.
Couch is comfortable on the defensive, knowledgeable in situational and positional wrestling. He wins most of his matches on points and most of the time the matches are close.
"They'll be stronger but it won't be that big of a difference," Couch said. "I'll be faster than them and I'll wrestle low instead of using my upper body."
Mavericks head coach Ty Tatham said Couch is a unique wrestler in that he's been a three-sport varsity athlete (wrestling, football and baseball) from day one at MHS.
"I don't know if you want to call it old school or renaissance, but you don't see a lot of kids like that," Tatham said. "He is the kind of kid that, when the lights are on, he's a gamer. I haven't run across many high school kids that compete as hard as he does."
Couch is also moving up three whole weight classes from 152 to 182 this season. Tatham, though, is not worried about his top gun being overwhelmed nor is he concerned with Cough trying to slim down.
"To be honest, I think it's perfect for him," Tatham said. "I always knew he'd end up there. He's pretty technical already and a lot of times you'll face guys up there who aren't quite as technical. I think that helps and though he doesn't look like he's that strong, he's pretty strong. I'm done wrestling him."
As a team, the Mavericks graduated Cody Heskett, Ian Stinson, Nick Baldwin, Greg Rademacher and Nick Testroet after last season. All five were state qualifiers. Juniors Austin Van Hooker and Kyle McNellis are the Mavericks' other returning state qualifiers.
Coming right off football season, Couch is behind most of the state's top wrestlers, who wrestle year-round as their primary sport.
But, that's nothing new for him.
"They usually have the advantage over me at the beginning of the year," Couch said. "But when it comes down to the end of the year, it's pretty much all the same. It's about how you end the year, not how you start it."
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi