PLAINVILLE - Dan Veleas spent the majority of Berlinâ€™s wrestling meet with Plainville pacing behind the Redcoats bench, listening to music through his headphones to stay loose until his name was called.
The defending Class M State Champion wouldnâ€™t hear his name called until the final match of the night, as Plainville constructed its lineup in a way that would keep Veleas off the mat until, in the eyes of Plainville head coach Rusty Spence, the match would already be decided.
Turns out, Spence was right. Veleas squared off against Plainvilleâ€™s Dakota Dinielli and earned a tech fall after a dominant 17-2 victory, but a team win was already out of reach. Plainville earned a 39-31 win, which was largely credited to keeping Veleas on the shelf until the end.
Wednesday nightâ€™s match is another example of the impact Veleas can have on a match, and the careful planning that opponents put into avoiding a match with the two-time defending state champ when the match is on the line.
Despite the planning swirling around him, Veleas doesnâ€™t feel any extra heat on him this season. Even after securing another state title last February, the senior says he doesnâ€™t feel any kind of target on his back.
Thatâ€™s because Veleas refuses to look back. Instead, heâ€™s looking forward.
â€śThis year Iâ€™m not really focused on being a defending champion at Class M,â€ť Veleas said. â€śIâ€™m really looking past that. Iâ€™m looking at state open champions and farther down the line.â€ť
Having reached the apex of the Class M hill, Veleas is looking to further his success in 2019, and has looked just as dominant as he did last year, even if opposing wrestlers are giving their best for a chance to take down a defending champ. If that extra heat is there, Veleas doesnâ€™t feel it. Heâ€™s too focused on what he needs to do to get better and reach his ultimate goals.
â€śI donâ€™t feel any target on my back, I just approach every match the same way,â€ť Veleas explained. â€śI just get to my offense and get to my scoring so I get ahead and stay ahead, and I feed off that as the match goes on.â€ť
While Veleas has State Open aspirations, he knows the only way to get there is to focus on the next match in front of him. His ultimate goal remains in his distant sights, but as his head coach and father Peter Veleas says, his son knows what has to be done to keep his dreams alive.
â€śHe takes it one match at a time,â€ť the elder Veleas said. â€śHeâ€™s pretty good at keeping focus on the task at hand. Thatâ€™s one of his strengthsâ€¦Heâ€™s looking at the next match in front of him. Heâ€™s good about doing that.â€ť
The Class M State Tournament is still three weeks away, so Veleas will keep Saturdayâ€™s CT Challenge at Southington High School circled on his calendar. Whoever he faces on Saturday, he can expect to get their best. But he still wonâ€™t feel a bullseye on his back. Heâ€™s not looking in that direction. By refusing to look backward, his eyes remain fixed on whatâ€™s right in front of him.