Right from the start, Peter Del Gallo was in trouble. He was wrestling in the NCAA Division III Northeast final Feb. 25, and fell behind early, having missed on a move and opened the door for Jay Albis of Johnson & Wales to jump ahead.

The wrestler who hadn’t suffered a loss all season couldn’t keep his unbeaten streak intact. Del Gallo, a University of Southern Maine sophomore, lost 10-4 after winning his first 39 matches of the season.

“I turned to one of my assistant coaches right after the match and I said, ‘That’s probably the best thing that could have happened to him,'” said USM Coach Mike Morin. “When you’re always winning, you can kind of get stuck in your own rut of going through the motions. I think a loss can be a really powerful good thing for athletes.

“He’s focused. He’s zeroed-in on what he needs to do.”

Del Gallo, a former Gardiner High star, is in Cleveland for his first NCAA Division III national tournament, where he’s seeded fourth at 125 pounds. His first match is Friday against Wartburg’s Brennen Doebel.

“It’s definitely exciting and I’m proud to have made it this far,” Del Gallo said, “but it’s not over yet.”

He’s one of two USM wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA championships. Austin Shorey, a freshman from Noble High, qualified at 141 pounds with a 31-7 record and will face David Flynn of Augsburg in his opening match.

Pressure and expectations have followed Del Gallo every step since a decorated high school career that included two New England championships and four national tournament qualifications.

“Especially with my brother (Dan) being successful in high school and then throughout his college career, I definitely felt a little pressure to be successful,” said Del Gallo, who watched his brother win USM’s first national championship at 149 pounds last year. “But it wasn’t bad pressure. … No pressure, no diamond.”

Morin said Del Gallo grew more intense with his training this year and improved his style, getting more aggressive and efficient. After waiting for opponents to make mistakes as a freshman, he’s started faster as a sophomore, looking to rack up points and bury opponents. Morin saw this new approach on the first day, and said Del Gallo has kept it going.

“He’s matured a little bit, he’s really figured out what it’s going to take to be successful at this level,” he said. “He’s just been very consistent with his approach and his training and matches and competition.”

And the approach worked, until the regional final. Del Gallo tried a move, Albis saw it coming, and in seconds Del Gallo was on his back and down 6-0.

“He got caught in a move,” Morin said. “We talked about it, and said ‘Hey, you can give up that takedown and be down 2-0, that’s a lot different than giving up the takedown and the back points to be down 6-0.”

Morin said that as a freshman, Del Gallo might have let the loss linger. As a sophomore, his maturity became apparent.

“He was probably a little upset, but to be honest, he didn’t show a ton of emotion about it,” Morin said. “This year I think it could be a good thing for him, to be honest. It could be one of those things where it refocuses him, puts it into perspective, and he’ll learn from it and (it will) help him get better moving forward.”

Now he’ll try to become the second member of his family to win an NCAA title.

“It’s motivating to know if (Dan) could do it, I can do it,” he said. “I’ve just got to work hard and give it my all.”

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