Tunkhannock’s D’Amato Showcased ‘mental Toughness’ To Qualify For States
Last week must have felt like a bad, recurring dream.
The morning after winning a District 2 wrestling championship, Tunkhannock’s Gavin D’Amato woke up feeling a little off but nevertheless went to work out. It persisted, though, and he felt sick enough to stay home from school Monday.
D’Amato said he got back to class Tuesday, but a trip to the doctor’s afterward didn’t provide peace of mind: he had come down with the flu. His junior postseason was on thin ice almost exactly one year after a bout with mono dismantled his District 2 title defense in 2018.
“It was the first thought. Me and my mom both were freaking out; here it goes all over again,” D’Amato said.
For the second year in a row, D’Amato had just about everything thrown at him during the postseason stretch. He was still recovering from the flu at last weekend’s Northeast Regional tournament and then had to absorb a first-round loss and a nearly-dislodged tooth during another match.
D’Amato overcame it all with three consecutive wins in the consolation bracket and a bronze medal. He’s now one of 11 Wyoming Valley Conference wrestlers who are competing in the opening rounds of today’s PIAA Wrestling Championships at the Giant Center in Hershey.
“This time, the mentality was different,” D’Amato, who is in Class 2A’s 145-pound bracket, said. “Last time I got mono I was like, ‘That’s it, season’s over. I’m done.’ This time, I kept telling myself it’s not going to affect me. I’m not going to think about it.”
“Mental toughness,” he said, pointing at the same two words on the Tigers’ practice room doors. “There you go, right there.”
Other state qualifiers from the WVC seemed destined to return to Hershey this weekend, including some for a second or third time. D’Amato wasn’t even confident he’d return to his own school’s gym this winter after the way his 2017-18 season ended.
He was a sophomore coming off a district title and a victory at regionals in his varsity debut. A repeat championship seemed like a reasonable expectation until the weekend of 2018’s district tournament.
D’Amato tried to wrestle through his sickness, but he simply couldn’t perform like a top seed.
“I did not think it was going to be as bad as it was. … Then I went there and wrestled,” he looked back. “Even the end of the first period, I was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute.’ Your conditioning is horrible. Your mentality is horrible. You’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m so sick.’ You’re tired.
“It really affected the way I wrestled, and it showed.”
He lost his opening-round match by one point to a sub-.500 freshman and stayed alive in his first consolation match. But the next day, another wrestler whom he had beaten earlier in the season ended D’Amato’s tournament with a pin.
The losses likely put D’Amato’s long-term goal of 100 career wins in three seasons out of reach. D’Amato was discouraged enough that he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to wrestle this season. He thinks he came to the team almost a week into practices following some discussions with coaches.
Coach Bob Hegedty said D’Amato wrestles better when he’s having fun, and cutting weight isn’t exactly a source of joy. So he asked D’Amato to just give it a shot at 145 pounds, where he wouldn’t have to cut weight; he stayed there even when injuries struck Tunkhannock at lower weight classes.
“It seemed to work out well for him,” Hegedty said.
D’Amato won a WVC championship in January and helped lead the Tigers into a District 2 duals championship match even after their two former state qualifiers were sidelined with long-term injuries. A pair of one-point victories capped his return to the top of the district medal stand.
Even with the flu scare last week and a 3-1 upset in his regional opener, D’Amato persisted. He said coaches helped get his mind right before Day 2’s action, where he started with a one-point victory and then qualified for states with a comeback victory in overtime.
To top it all off, D’Amato won third place with a two-point decision over Lake-Lehman’s Hunter Burke — a rematch of their closely contested D2 and WVC title bouts.
D’Amato and classmate David Evans will return next season to lead a roster full of up-and-coming talent. But first, both juniors are wrestling today at states, even though D’Amato battled sickness and Evans suffered a broken arm earlier in the season.
“Just looking at what happened last year to this year and how far I had to rise above it is pretty cool to look back at,” D’Amato said.
“Not every obstacle in life is the end of it. (Evans) wasn’t supposed to come back,” he later added, “and here he is going to states. Hopefully young guys see that.”
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