Eric Osmer was exhausted, his body and spirit whipped from riding wrestling's rollercoaster.
Two days in Stockton left the Buhach Colony coach head-spun from balancing the highs and lows of postseason wrestling -- dreams lifted and extended; careers slammed shut.
"I feel like somebody hit me with two-by-four," Osmer said on Sunday, "for two straight days."
Oddly enough, it was a weekend of relative success for the Central California Conference at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament in Stockton.
Never miss a local story.
Los Banos qualified seven for Friday's Masters tournament at Stockton Arena. Golden Valley will send six, while Buhach Colony and Merced placed five apiece.
The Masters is the qualifying tournament for the CIF State Meet in Bakersfield -- and a proving ground for the very best wrestlers from Le Grand to Sacramento.
But for every winner -- for every arm held high, every medal awarded -- there has to be a loser.
Two, in fact.
And a coach.
And if you look closely this weekend, down hallways, around corners and in the stands, you'll find wrestling's emotional toll uncensored:
a wrestler kneeling, head on knee, hooded sweatshirt hiding tear-stained cheeks. His support staff hovering overhead, heaping praise and thanks on their young warrior;
or a coach, tough as nails without a "soft" bone in his body, accepting his protege's handshake as a bridge to a hug. They embrace like a father and son would, because...
"It's a blood, sweat and tears sport," Golden Valley coach Chopper Mello said. "They put in so much and you've been through everything with them. When they lose that's when you really feel it."
In wrestling, the end rarely justifies the means. Competitors tangle in 14 weight classes with the understanding that by season's end only 14 across the state will close on a winning note.
"The ones that don't make it, the ones that don't reach their goals, that's hard to deal with," Osmer said. "We have to be psychiatrists and deal with that and try to move on.
"You set these goals and, when you find out about Masters and state, you put yourself through year-round training and extra stuff to get there. When you don't make it, it takes a toll on you."
Longtime Atwater coach Paul Bristow has been involved with the sport since 1966 and "it doesn't get any easier," he said.
Atwater took five wrestlers to the divisional tournament, including two seniors.
All five were denied.
All five needed some form of counseling afterwards.
With the underclassmen, Bristow didn't waste much time, pulling each aside for a chat. He used words like "springboard" and "experience" and "potential."
On Monday, he gathered six young wrestlers in his room and told them to clear their weekend schedules. They were headed to Masters -- as spectators -- to "see it and feel it."
For the seniors, he prescribed space.
"You want it so bad for your kids," Bristow said. "Every time you take a hard loss, it's like 'Oh man, what are we doing wrong?'
"When you're dealing with a senior, it's quite possible he just wrestled his last match. Sure, there's a couple that go on, but a majority of seniors won't wrestle after high school. You've been with them several years, taken them to as many places as you can and all of a sudden...
"It's over. It's a sad experience. Very emotional for the kids. Very emotional for the parents."
And the coaches.
Nothing impacted Osmer more than watching Edgar Curiel's prep career come to a close in the consolation bracket on Sunday -- two tournaments shy of expectation.
Curiel had been a member of BC's wrestling program since seventh grade. He participated in all the camps; survived all the practices. The 135-pounder placed third at divisionals last season and was the team's captain.
But he was also injured, nursing a sore right shoulder that forced him to change his style.
"You can't do a double- or single-leg takedown with one arm," Osmer said. "He tried, but you just can't do it."
Curiel missed a top-6 finish, bringing his decorated career to a close.
"I knew there was nothing I could say that would make him feel better in that moment, the next day or next week," Osmer said. "There was a silence."
Later, Curiel found Osmer during the finals. He thanked his coach for the time, the knowledge and the opportunity.
Osmer deflected the praise.
"Don't thank me," he said. "I should be thanking you."
James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.