As part of their daily practice routine, the members of Burrell's wrestling team run laps around the high school gymnasium. Their route wraps around the basketball court, includes two sets of stairwells and also involves a straightaway across the gym's narrow upper level, where extra bleachers are stored.
The end-to-end run along the elevated portion of the gym puts senior Dakota DesLauriers at eye level with the banners that hang on the far wall and commemorate the Bucs' five PIAA individual titles.
With every lap — there are many — he sees a banner with his last name on it for several seconds. The first name, however, is different.
DesLauriers, one of the most successful wrestlers in Burrell's history, plans to add the only title missing from his resume this weekend in Hershey, where he'll compete in the PIAA Class AA individual championships from Thursday through Saturday at Giant Center. If he achieves his goal, he'll join his uncle, Joel, who became Burrell's first state champion in 1997.
“It's motivation every day,” DesLauriers said. “I've been working for this so hard for all this time.”
Each of the past three seasons, DesLauriers moved closer to a state crown. As a freshman, he lost in overtime in the quarterfinals and then came back to place sixth in the 171-pound weight class. As a sophomore, he lost to the eventual champion in the semifinals and won the rest of his bouts to take third. Last year, he reached the finals but lost, 6-4, to Grove City's Wes Phipps, now a freshman at Penn State.
That setback ruined DesLauriers' flawless record for the season.
It also forced him to reassess his style on the mat. While he capitalized on opponents' mistakes about as well as anyone in the state, he needed a way to score on foes who rarely slipped up.
“I wasn't attacking on my feet,” DesLauriers said. “In one- or two-point matches, I waited and waited and waited for one takedown. I've had to open myself up a little more. I'm good in scramble situations; I just have to get myself into them.”
DesLauriers, who missed the first few weeks of the season with mononucleosis, again enters the PIAA tournament unbeaten (32-0). Two weekends ago, he claimed this third WPIAL title, and on Saturday, he earned his third Southwest Regional championship.
Few opponents have challenged him. Only two who lasted an entire match held the margin to four points or fewer.
An indication that he's climbing toward his apex, in the regional championship, DesLauriers cruised to a 13-4 win over Blairsville sophomore Scott Thompson, the District 6 champion and a No. 2 seed.
“The kid came off and was actually smiling because I think he felt like he'd been taken to school by Dakota on his feet,” Burrell coach Bud Sines said. “He just shook his head as if it was almost an honor to get beaten up that bad.”
Two other WPIAL Class AA wrestlers head to Hershey with zero losses for the season.
Kittanning junior 132-pounder Jason Nolf, a state champion as a freshman and a third-place finisher last year, is 41-0 this season and 128-1 in his career.
And Jefferson-Morgan senior 170-pounder Dustin Conti, a two-time regional and WPIAL champion, is 37-0.
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