Even before he was crowned an NCAA Division III national wrestling champion on Saturday, Daniel Del Gallo had a feeling the rest of the field was in trouble.
“I really thought it from the beginning,” he said. “I didn’t plan on losing. I planned on wrestling as hard as I could for every match. I knew if I just did that, I could win the whole thing.”
Del Gallo’s hunch was correct. The University of Southern Maine senior finished his career with a national title at 149 pounds, defeating Cornell College’s Aaron Engle 4-1 in the finals.
Del Gallo wrote down his goals at the start of the season, one being to set the school record for victories and the other to win a national championship. The Gardiner High graduate accomplished both during the two-day tournament in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
“It’s pretty amazing when you lay your goals out and accomplish them,” said Del Gallo, whose victory over Engle was the 137th of his career. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, completely. … It’s been an awesome journey. Not even just these past four years, but ever since I can remember.”
Del Gallo joins track and field athletes Jamie Ruginski (triple jump, long jump) and Peyton Dostie (pentathlon) as the only individual national champions in USM history. His career victories surpass the previous school record of 133, set by Huskies Coach Mike Morin.
Seeded fourth in the tournament, Del Gallo beat Concordia-Moorhead’s Ty Johnson 13-1, and pinned Wesleyan’s Carter Armendarez before upsetting two-time national champion Kenny Martin of Wartburg College 7-5 in the semifinals.
“After the semis, I knew it was going to happen,” said Del Gallo, who had gone 2-4 in two previous trips to the nationals. “I had full confidence going into the final match that I could do this and I could walk away a champion.”
That left only Engle, and by then, the USM coaches had seen him enough to arm Del Gallo with a strategy.
“They knew what he was doing all tournament,” Del Gallo said. “So we came in with a game plan, and that game plan was that he was going to come at me, he was going to wrestle me hard all seven minutes, and I could ride him.”
The first period ended without a point, but Del Gallo chose the bottom position to start the second period and immediately slipped away, getting a point for an escape. It was the only point going into the third round, but Del Gallo’s plan began to work as he got a point for riding time in addition to two for a near fall. Engle salvaged a point with an escape, but Del Gallo knew he had the match won.
“There’s a guy that comes on the mat, and he yells to the ref … to count it down,” he said. “Once I heard that guy’s voice, I started backing off and I knew I had won at that point. It was very exciting. I had my hands in the air. It was an amazing feeling.
“Everyone’s watching that match, it’s up on a stage, the lights are dimmed down, everyone is into the match. The crowd’s going wild.
“It was amazing to win there, but then after, running off the stage and into the back room, it just kind of hits you. It’s just a real sense of relief and happiness, knowing that I accomplished my goal.”