Peter Del Gallo wanted a national title. It was the University of Southern Maine junior’s only goal when he took the mat at the NCAA Division III championships last weekend in Roanoke, Virginia.

Within two matches, the goal was gone. Del Gallo lost in the quarterfinals, eliminating a chance for the title he craved.

It took a while, but Del Gallo realized all wasn’t lost.

“The 20 minutes after it was definitely hard. My focus was all messed up,” Del Gallo said. “But I had my coaches out there, and my brother Daniel was out there, too, and they just kept telling me to refocus. ‘Get the next best thing.'”

Del Gallo did just that, winning four straight consolation bracket matches to finish third and earn All-America status in the 125-pound class.

It wasn’t the way Del Gallo drew it up. After losing only twice before nationals, the Gardiner native was looking forward to dueling top seed and eventual champion Jay Albis of Johnson & Wales University – whom he had beaten earlier in the year – and taking home the national title the way his brother did two years before.

“My goal was to win it, no doubt,” he said. “That was the biggest goal I had all year.”

Still, Del Gallo took pride in what he was able to accomplish. Becoming an All-American, a status given to those finishing in the top eight, didn’t come easily.

“You have your goals, you want to win. And then you lose, and some people have a hard time coming back from that,” said Del Gallo, who acknowledged dealing with momentary dips in confidence during an otherwise terrific season. “They just shut down and go ‘I’m not going to win it now, I’m just going to go easy and just lose.’ But I really found out I have what it takes to grind back and always get the next best thing.”

USM Coach Mike Morin echoed that thought after Del Gallo became just the fourth All-American in the history of the Huskies’ program.

“For him to regroup and win four matches in a row to take third was huge,” he said. “To place top-eight and be an NCAA All-American, to me and to our program, is a really big deal. … He should be proud of himself, and he’s got another year left, and I know the goal next year is going to be the same as it was this year.”

Del Gallo won his first match, beating Brockport’s Matt Caccamise, 11-7, then went to overtime in his quarterfinal against Augsburg’s Victor Gliva before a takedown and near fall doomed Del Gallo in a 7-1 loss.

Out of the running for the top prize, Del Gallo was disheartened, and his support system on hand tried to rally him back.

“I kept preaching ‘Hey, you have an opportunity right now,'” Morin said. “Don’t look at it as a negative, look at it as ‘Hey, you’re one match away from being an NCAA All-American.’ That’s an opportunity most of them never get.”

Del Gallo clinched the All-America distinction by beating Collin Wickramaratna of Ursinus, 6-1. The next day, he beat Carlos Champagne of Wabash, 10-5, then rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat Cameron Timok of Central, 5-2.

“(That was) just the coaches telling me the same thing that I needed to hear all year,” Del Gallo said. “Just to believe in myself, believe in what I’m capable of doing as a wrestler. … You’re already an All-American, what do you have to lose? What is there to lose? Go out there and score points.”

His last match was against Ferdinand Mase of Ithaca. Del Gallo grabbed a 4-2 lead after the first period, but Mase took a point in the second period on an escape, then answered a Del Gallo escape with a takedown in the third period to knot the score at 5.

With time running out, Del Gallo made a final push. He regained the lead with an escape with 1:18 left, then took down Mase with 14 seconds to go to seal an 8-5 win.

“That match was just a grind, through-and-through. It was seven minutes of just hard-fought wrestling,” Del Gallo said. “You’ve just got to break through it and realize that this guy’s tired. He’s just as tired as me, if not more tired. You’ve got to break down that wall and grit through it.”

The final match encapsulated what the whole tournament was like for Del Gallo, gutting through an early disappointment to become one of two wrestlers in his weight class who finished the tournament with a win.

“They kept telling me, ‘Get the next best thing,'” he said. “And I really lived through that for the rest of the tournament.”

And with a year still to go, there’s still time for the next best thing to be the very best thing.

“When he is wrestling confident and opens up and gets to his attacks and gets to his scores, there’s nobody in the country that can beat him,” Morin said. “I really believe that.”

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