For Northwestern Lehigh's Mike Ortiz, nothing has come easy during his wrestling career.
Ortiz was dealt a crushing blow during regionals of his junior year, when he suffered a serious knee injury that forced him to prematurely withdraw from the tournament and endure a long offseason of rehab, which made success during his senior year far from a sure thing.
But Ortiz persevered and bounced back in a big way this past season, going 33-6 while claiming the PIAA District 11 Class AA title at 170 pounds. Ortiz carried that momentum into regionals where he took silver and earned a trip to Hershey for the PIAA Wrestling Championships.
Now, Ortiz will get a chance to take the next step in his wrestling career, as he recently committed to Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, which has an up-and-coming Division I program in the Eastern Wrestling League.
Having been through his fare share of adversity during his high school career, the opportunity is something Ortiz certainly won't take for granted.
"It's very exciting because it's all that I've worked for," said Ortiz. "I wasn't the best wrestler in the state, but it's just something that I've always wanted to do."
And after enjoying so much success during his senior season, Ortiz has no reservations about what he'll be able to accomplish in the future.
"I don't think there's any reason to set expectations any lower than what I have my whole life," Ortiz said of his prospects. "I'm just going to set them as high as can be and work from there."
The Lock Haven program will also have higher expectations come next season, as the Bald Eagles went 7-6 this past year and defeated national powers such as West Virginia, Eastern Michigan and Bucknell, among others. Two Lock Haven wrestlers also qualified for the NCAA Wrestling Championships through the Eastern Wrestling League tournament, proving that the program is headed in the right direction.
While he is eager to get started and be a part of the program's success, Ortiz is willing to sit out a year while he gets acclimated to his new surroundings and continues to get his knee back to full strength.
"My first year I have to redshirt because of my (knee) injury," Ortiz said. "But after that I want to make the lineup and take things literally day-by-day.
"If I have to beat someone out to make the lineup, then that's what I'm going to work for. And from there on out, just keep setting new goals."
After seeing him overcome his knee injury, Northwestern coach Jim Moll has no doubt that Ortiz will make the transition to a Division I program with ease.
"I think the biggest thing that he proved to himself is that he proved he could wrestle just about any style he wanted to," Moll said. "He completely had to change his offense from his feet (after the knee injury) with not even a whole season to learn that.
"We didn't have any offseason with him because he couldn't wrestle during the summer. To be able to learn a new style in that short amount of time should give him a lot of confidence moving forward into college where he may have to change a few things that he does."
Moll knows that losing Ortiz will be tough to overcome, but is aware that the legacy he will leave behind is something that will carry on long after he's gone.
"He's in the (wrestling) room all the time; summer, spring and fall," Moll said of Ortiz. "He's a very, very dedicated athlete and that means a lot.
"It sets a good example for everybody else as far as the time you need to put in to get to the level that he got to."