In the third period of his 74 kg (163 pound) semifinals match at the FILA Junior Freestyle National Championships, Dylan Palacio fell behind 3-1 against Patrick Rhodes of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. And he heard a voice screaming out of the Iowa corner.
“Tom Brands was yelling to his guy talking about me, saying, ‘he’s broke, he’s broke,’” Palacio said. “It was gut check time. I just went after it. You can’t believe for a second that you’ll lose.”
Palacio started to rack up points, including a takedown with just a few seconds left to seal a 6-3 win in the final stanza and a trip to the title bout.
“After the match, I shook [Brands’s] hand and said, ‘I don’t ever break,’” Palacio recalled.
He certainly didn’t over the weekend.
In the championship, Palacio was matched up against Bison Wrestling Club’s Matthew Gray, in a rematch of the 160 pound third place bout at the Junior National Freestyle Championships last summer in North Dakota. Gray won that one in straight periods.
“He worked me last year at Fargo. He beat me up,” Palacio said.
Gray began strong again, taking the first period by a 3-0 score. But Palacio said he felt this time would be different.
“I wasn’t worried, I had a big smile on my face,” he said. “I knew who he was and was actually okay with my first period because I was feeling him out and figuring out what I needed to do the rest of the match. I knew I could make the adjustments – heavy on the head, more attacks, especially single legs. It paid off.”
In the middle stanza, Gray struck first with a takedown, but Palacio tied it up with about 1:30 left, to take the 1-1 “lead”. Gray came at Palacio with a significant charge, looking to move ahead with a pushout, however the former Long Beach star somehow found a way to stay in bounds to win the period.
“It was like a 360 tiptoe move,” Palacio said. “That’s just all heart right there. I think in retrospect, that’s why I won. Not giving up and circling on that line. He used all his energy for the push and in a way, that was the match.”
Palacio used a takedown and a two-point exposure to go ahead 3-0 in the third and when time expired, he had a 4-2 victory and a national title.
It was a stark contrast to where the former Section 8 standout was in February.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Not that long ago, I was on a medical table at Edinboro with a torn MCL. I was hurt a lot this year and I was feeling frustrated and skeptical about my future. I won’t forget the people who encouraged me and believed, because without them, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Palacio acknowledged that his run over the weekend may be a surprise to some, because of the limited tournament action he saw with the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club over the past year. (He said he took part in less than 10 official bouts). But he added that people didn’t know what he was doing behind the scenes.
“You don’t need to wrestle 100 matches to get better,” he said. “I may not have wrestled a lot of matches, but I was lifting and improving a lot in practice. And I was wrestling the way I wanted to – calm, not crazy, not sloppy. I was moving well, working my scores. And now I’m healthier. I’m back from hiatus.”
“I hit the lottery having Cam Simaz and Frankie Perrelli in my corner,” he said of his coaches at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club. “They complement each other so well as and they helped me go in the right direction. I didn’t really know how to wrestle when I got to Ithaca, I hadn’t lifted weights, there were a lot of things I didn’t know. But they saw the potential and never gave up on me.”
So immediately after his hand was raised on Saturday, Palacio said he ran off the mat and hugged Perrelli and Simaz and the other supporters in attendance. And he pointed up at the sky to acknowledge another inspiration.
“It was my best friend’s birthday about a week ago,” he said. “He passed away a few years ago. I believe he watches over me and I won this for him. The plaque I won is his birthday present. I’ll bring it to his memorial when I get home.”
There are lots of things for Palacio to do when he gets back to the East Coast. He said he knows he has a lot to learn from his coaches. And he said he “can always learn something from Kyle [Dake]– whether it’s lifting, running, drilling or just how to act. I’m willing to admit that’s who I want to be like.”
The Long Island native said he can’t wait to start his freshman year at Cornell and has visualized being announced as a starter for the Big Red at the Friedman Center for the first time. (He has his entrance song all picked out).
While there’s still plenty to demonstrate before getting to that point, Palacio feels like he’s now on his way.
“From where I was a month ago to now — things can change so quickly,” he said. “It feels so good to be a national champion but I’ll keep going. The goal is to be an NCAA champ. This is just a stepping stone.”