For Kittanning junior Jason Nolf and Burrell senior Dakota DesLauriers, few Christmas gifts are as alluring as an opportunity to showcase their wrestling abilities against elite competition during the holiday season.
Such a present will show up in two days for the WPIAL standouts.
The first — and perhaps only — chance for Nolf and DesLauriers to find out how they measure up against other potential PIAA individual title contenders and nationally ranked out-of-state foes arrives Friday in the form of the Powerade Christmas Tournament at Canon-McMillan High School.
Both are particularly eager for the event this season. DesLauriers, a finalist in 2010 and champion in 2011, considered himself fortunate for the opportunity to compete at all, as he, a 182-pounder, recovered from a bout with mononucleosis less than two weeks ago. And Nolf, a 132-pounder, is a newcomer to this tournament, which is ranked as the third toughest in the country by wrestlingreport.com.
“I know it's going to be real tough,” said Nolf, a state champion as a freshman and a third-place finisher last season. “There are going to be like 10 real top-of-the-line kids there, but I'm going there to win.”
Nolf's weight class is crowded with wrestlers who, like the Kittanning junior, appear on Intermat's national rankings. At No. 5, just one spot above Nolf, is Canon-McMillan senior Connor Schram, a Stanford recruit who took second in PIAA Class AAA last season. Forest Park (Va.) senior and Virginia Tech senior Dennis Gustafson is No. 9. And Blair Academy (N.J.) junior P.J. Klee is No. 11.
One win gives Nolf 100 for his career — his record stands at 99-1. But he desires a lot more.
So how would a Powerade title compare to PIAA gold?
“It'd rank pretty high; close to a state title,” Nolf said. “I think it's tougher than states, because at states, I usually have one tough kid.”
A championship certainly would shore up Nolf's college prospects. His list of possible destinations, which floats around 10, includes a few Ivy League schools, service academies and public schools.
“I don't want people knowing (specifics),” Nolf said. “Because other colleges that might give me an offer, I don't want to not include them, because if they see that I'm only interested in these certain few colleges, they won't approach me.”
DesLauriers' wrestling life is less complicated than Nolf's. He signed with Mercyhurst in the fall, which allowed him to avoid recruitment distractions.
“I don't feel a lot of pressure this year,” DesLauriers said. “There is some pressure, but I'm actually a little more relaxed than I was last year.”
While the 182-pound weight class lacks the star power of Nolf's, it's still sufficiently difficult for DesLauriers, a defending PIAA Class AA runner-up who hopes to unveil a more aggressive, offensive style this season.
“It's a nice tournament to gauge yourself and where you're at,” he said. “It's at a nice point in the season. It's not a league tournament or a tournament closer to states, where if you're awful, then you're like, ‘Oh God, what do I do?' Instead, it's like, OK, break yourself down and look at the things you did wrong.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.
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