It was a crowning achievement for one Del Gallo. And a learning experience for another.

Dan Del Gallo capped off a superb wrestling career at the University of Southern Maine in March by winning the Division III national championship at 149 pounds in La Crosse, Wisconsin. To get there, he won four matches against the best of the best, wrestlers who had dedicated themselves to reach that stage and whose efforts showed it.

While Dan won and eventually celebrated, brother Peter, a USM freshman, watched. And soaked it in.

“He experienced the national tournament and he saw what guys were doing,” USM coach Mike Morin said. “He was there, he felt the atmosphere, he saw how guys were getting after it, putting points on the board, building on leads. You don’t just get there, you have to really put in a lot of work.

“I think he’s kind of embraced that.”

The results have indicated as much. In just his sopohomore season, Del Gallo has firmly entrenched himself on the national scene, rising to No. 3 in the country at 125 pounds with a 15-0 start to the season.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable with my wrestling,” Del Gallo said. “I’m wrestling more aggressively, and I’m going out and getting after kids. Just trying to dominate.”

Del Gallo didn’t have much of a jump to make. A standout at Gardiner, Del Gallo showed he belonged in his freshman year, completing a strong season and coming just one win away from a trip to the national tournament.

“Usually it takes a year or two to really kind of adjust from high school to college,” Morin said. “Peter kind of hit the ground running as a freshman.”

Still, the trip to Wisconsin — and seeing his brother bring home the title — ignited a desire in Del Gallo, who started the season ranked 10th, to progress even further.

“Trying to follow in my brother’s footsteps, that’s the end goal,” he said. “Knowing that Daniel did it and being on the same team and watching how he put in the work and how his hard work got him to where he wanted to be, that definitely drives me every day.”

It was on his mind during the offseason, with Del Gallo acknowledging that he trained harder and more extensively than he did the year before. And by the time the season started, Morin could see an uptick in the sophomore’s competitive demeanor.

“There’s a different kind of focus and intensity in his training this year versus last year,” he said.

It’s translated into a new approach on the mat as well. Always a technically sound wrestler, Del Gallo originally liked to read and react, wait for his opponent to make a mistake and then jump on it. The result was a style that was effective and resulted often in victories, but rarely the kind of one-sided results that get the team more points and the wrestler more recognition.

“He wrestled well and won a lot of matches,” Morin said, “but he didn’t really look to build on his leads as much and put as many points on the board.”

That hasn’t been the case this season. Del Gallo has jumped more quickly to get the advantage on his opponents, and either piled up the points or snatched victory in a matter of seconds. Twelve of his 15 wins have been by bonus points, either pin, technical fall or major decision.

“I guess I changed a little. I’m more of an aggressive wrestler, I got after guys and score points early and often,” Del Gallo said. “It’s going out and doing the moves I know I can do, and being aggressive with my confidence.”

“It’s early on,” Morin said, “but it seems like he’s going out there to not only win, but win in dominating fashion.”

It was his closest match, however, that may have been the most impressive. Facing Johnson and Wales’s Bobby Jordan, a three-time national tournament qualifier and All-American and the fourth-ranked wrestler in the country, Del Gallo fell behind 4-1 in the second period, only to even the score by its end with an escape and takedown, take the match to overtime and then eke out a 10-7 victory.

Nearly four weeks later, Del Gallo calls it his signature win. Morin agrees.

“He kind of had to dig deep and battle back, and he did that,” the Huskies coach said. “It’s nice to see that sometimes, especially with a guy like him who’s used to going out and having the lead and dominating. Being able to also battle back when you are in a tough match is a good quality to have.”

That win lifted Del Gallo to third in the country, and he knows there’s a crosshairs that comes with it.

“Now that I’m third, people are going to be gunning for me, trying to knock me off,” he said. “I’ve got to work even harder and improve as the year goes on.”

Morin said he doesn’t expect his sophomore to be leaving the national spotlight anytime soon.

“I think this is where he belongs,” he said. “He’s a really talented wrestler and a national caliber kid. He’s a kid that’s capable of winning a national title, and I’m not surprised at all with his results.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM