Quin Morgan saw this coming.

Correction: Morgan felt it, deep in his gut.

Morgan, the Mounds View wrestling team's senior leader, has been a part of this group of teammates, their successes, disappointments and close calls — amid a slew of victories — since elementary school. The feeling as this season approached: It's the Mustangs' time.

"We always planned on being state champs in my senior year, which is this year," said Morgan, the third son of Minnesota wrestling royalty Marty Morgan.

So far, so good.

So very good.

Mounds View won 31 team matches last year, but its only loss, to Suburban East Conference rival Stillwater in the Section 4 team finals, ended the dream of a state tournament berth. Quin Morgan called it "heartbreaking."

The Mustangs have sacked all comers this season, winning in a series of romps. They ran away with the championship at the time-honored Minnesota Christmas Tournament, topping a stacked field that included Class 3A's top-ranked team, St. Michael-Albertville, and Class 2A's No. 1, Simley.

Less than a month later Mounds View won the prestigious, 70-plus-team Rumble on the Red tournament in Fargo. Nine Mustangs wrestlers placed in Fargo, and Morgan won the 215-pound title. He's 30-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A at 215.

For much of the team, success has felt long overdue. Mounds View is established as a high-level program with a series of successful seasons but has long been stuck just below the final rung. The program has been to state twice, not since 2007.

"I call this group 'The Other Guys,'" longtime head coach Dan Engebretson said. "Coming up, they were never state champions or had a bunch of state tournament qualifiers or national All-Americans. They just work hard and love being with each other."

That matches Morgan's memory: "When we were going to all those K-6 tournaments when we were kids, we would always finish fourth to eighth, in that range."

Motivation coalesced last season when the perfect season slipped away in a 31-21 loss to Stillwater with a state tournament berth at stake. The Ponies, whom Mounds View had defeated 34-17 during the regular season, headed to the state tournament for the seventh consecutive season. Mounds View watched from the sidelines.

"All my high school career, we've never gotten to state. We lost to Stillwater six years in a row. It's made us hungry," said senior 172-pounder Apollo Ashby, who is 22-3 and ranked No. 3 in Class 3A. "We're finally at the level where we can compete with them for a championship. It drives us even more."

On Thursday, Mounds View will square off with the rival Ponies in a triangular, along with Centennial, at Stillwater. The Mustangs admit they've had this one circled all season, and they're anticipating a memorable night. But the Mounds View coaches, while not pretending to ignore the significance, are stressing to their wrestlers that it's just another match. They need to do the same things that have kept them undefeated.

When that message comes from assistant coaches Jeff Swenson or Marty Morgan, it resonates with wrestlers. Swenson started Augsburg's Division III program and coached it for 25 years, producing 10 national champion teams. Morgan won a national championship at the University of Minnesota in 1991 as a 177-pounder, going 39-0, the first Gophers wrestler to go undefeated in a season.

"We are just trying to get a little better every day," Swenson said.

Taking their advice from big names and their motivation from crushing losses, Mounds View's wrestlers aim to join the wrestling elite this season.

"We are 100 percent the underdogs," Quin Morgan said. "A lot of people don't even know where Mounds View is. You go to tournaments and say, 'We're from Mounds View,' and they think it's out by Waconia. We've been together forever and we all love each other. We're here to put ourselves on the map because we know we're the best team in the state."