BOYERTOWN >> Nick Duliakas’ heart wasn’t in it.
The Owen J. Roberts senior was at a crossroads in mid-December, his dedication wavering to a point where he was unsure if he would complete his final wrestling season with the Wildcats.
It took a look into the distant future to turn around Duliakas and the Wildcats’ near future.
Following a junior season where he was 20-11 and finished fifth at the Southeast AAA Regional, Duliakas’ last hurrah was seriously lacking hurrah.
He was 6-5 in the first two weeks of the season, a 2-3 run at the King of the Mountain tournament serving as a breaking point.
“Wrestling as a sport, if you’re not 100 percent in it’s tough,” the 195-pounder said. “You have to be one of the best and train like one of the best if you want to be a league champ, a state champ. You have to work and put in your time, the big thing is the dedication. You can’t be in and out of it.”
Over Christmas and into January, Duliakas was out, not with the Wildcats through the start of the PAC season and Escape the Rock and Buckskin Classic tournaments.
“I wasn’t going to come back, until a couple of guys got into me,” he said.
The final breakthrough came thanks to Marc Petrucelli, a former OJR wrestler himself (Class of 1978) and father of two-time PIAA qualifier Dominick Petrucelli (Class of 2015) and freshman Antonio Petrucelli.
“He told me, ‘Twenty years down the road, you see some wrestling buddies, how do you want them to remember you: the guy that left or the guy that stuck it out because he’s a team man?” Duliakas said.
Neither might have realized the eventual ripple effect of Duliakas’ return.
In conjunction with their top upperweight’s renewal since returning from a three-week hiatus on Jan. 18 – he is 16-1 with seven pins and five technical falls since then and 22-6 overall – OJR wrestling had a rebirth of its own by returning to the top of the PAC in the dual meet season – crucially knocking off champion Boyertown, 37-33, on Jan. 25 – and qualifying for the PIAA Team Championships for the first time in four years.
On Saturday at the PAC Individual Championships, the Wildcats – like Duliakas a month earlier – decided they weren’t done.
OJR backed up its dual success by claiming the team title at the PAC tournament by the narrowest 216-215 margin despite having only two champions – Duliakas at 195 and Ryan Resnick at 160 – to five from runner-up Boyertown.
Luke Resnick (120), Antonio Petrucelli (132), Cole Meredith (138) and Daniel Mancini (145) scored silver as part of 13 qualifiers for next weekend’s District 1-AAA West tournament.
“We’ve been waiting for a while, since freshman year we’ve always lost to Boyertown,” Duliakas said. “Senior year – after not being sure I wanted to finish the season out – to come back full steam and beat everybody as a team, then beat everyone individually, it’s awesome.
“I came back and now I’m loving every second of it.”
Instead of taking away from the team, Duliakas continues to give to it – his first-period pin in the final Saturday tipped the final team total in OJR’s favor.
“I didn’t want to take (postseason opportunities) away from those guys, the guys who wanted it most,” Duliakas said. “If I’m not there, maybe we don’t go to states, don’t win this (PAC tournament). I can’t take that away from these guys.”
Guys like fellow PAC champion Ryan Resnick, who has the Wildcats’ best record this season at 35-2 and is undefeated outside of the Escape the Rock tournament, where he placed fourth.
The 160-pounder qualified for states as a sophomore but missed out last season when he placed sixth at regionals.
“I carry it with me everyday. It’s a pain that’s hard to explain. You just know you don’t want to feel it anymore,” Resnick said of seeing his state aspirations fall short last season. “I’m going to try to do everything I can to feel the opposite this postseason.”
It’s been a huge jump from wrestling at 113 as a sophomore to now at 160, but it’s obviously been a fit.
“I’ve been lifting all summer, all season and I’ve been getting stronger as the season progresses, which is new for me,” Resnick said. “I’ve been sucked out at the end of seasons and struggling, but now I’m strong and getting stronger everyday.”
Strength turns to confidence turns to big aspirations.
“I have my goal set pretty high – to be state champ – but I think it’s achievable and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” Resnick said.
Duliakas is on the same wavelength.
“These are all good moments and I’m so happy with my decision. Now it’s making me motivated even more,” he said.
It may be the individual phase of the postseason, but with 13 Wildcats advancing to districts no one is going it alone.
“We work hard every single day. Everyone in the room comes in all-in every day,” Resnick said. “There’s no one who is half-way and coasting through practice. We’re always pushing each other and motivating each other and trying to bring each other up.”
Especially in an individual sport, no one can do it for you. Drive and dedication aren’t inherent.
Fortunately for the Wildcats and Duliakas, he found his in time for OJR to fulfill its potential.