Down a long, concrete staircase, stashed in the bowels of Priory’s athletic building, you’ll find the wrestling room. You’ll know you’re on the right path well before you hit the third step. The smell is what tells you. The pungent odor of blood, sweat and pain wraps your nose in a vice grip. There’s nothing quite like the scent of the wrestling room. It’s unmistakable.
It’s here, down that staircase and behind the doors, that you’ll find Priory’s all-time leader in victories—Zach Lavallee. He’s a mat maven who, earlier this winter, broke the previous record of 83 wins, which was set in 2001 by Danny Veraldi. Currently, he has more than 80 career wins and is eyeing a run at 100.
You might imagine a wrestler of his stature, to be, well, rather imposing in stature. You might imagine him to be a hulk of a young man who eats dumbbells for breakfast and the bench press for lunch. That he’d be a lifelong wrestler who wants nothing more than to keep living and dying on the mat as along as he can.
Lavallee, 18, is 5-foot-8 and 120 pounds. He picked up wrestling almost by accident as a middle school student. When he graduates from Priory he’ll matriculate to Wisconsin where he plans to study chemical engineering. Not exactly the stereotype.
Make no mistake, Lavallee is tougher than the chemical equations he solves in his mind. You don’t take up wrestling with the idea that you’ll just try it for a while and see how it goes. You’re either in or you’re out on your first day. Wrestling is the toughest six minutes in sports. It’s three two-minute rounds where one grappler pits their skills and training against another. One will win. One will lose. There are no teammates helping you on the mat. There are no substitutions. It’s the most basic form of competition we know. Who’s stronger? Who’s tougher? Who’s smarter? “It’s the best sport I’ve ever done,” Lavallee says. “And I tried everything.”
It’s that loner aspect to the sport that appeals to Lavallee. He knows when the victories come it’s because of the hard work and effort he’s put in. When he takes losses, there’s only one place to point the finger—right into his own chest.
Lavallee ended last season on a loss and it still burns. He failed to qualify for the state meet when Soldan’s Steven Irving got the better of him. Lavallee had beaten Irving every time he’d seen him last year, save the last time. “I got myself into a bad position and got cradled (pinned) by a kid I’ve beaten,” Lavallee says.
Lavallee exacted a small amount of revenge this season as he and Irving met in the first meet of the season. “I pinned him in the first period,” Lavallee says.
That kick-started what has been a dynamite senior year for Lavallee. He’s 26-2 and relishing his role as a team leader. The wrestling room might smell funny but there’s an immense amount of learning that goes on in there. It might the funkiest classroom in the building. Lavallee enjoys working with the younger guys and passing on the knowledge he’s acquired in his time. “It’s always nice being the leader of the team,” Lavallee says sheepishly.
Wrestling appeals to Lavallee because it’s how his mind works. Lavallee is drawn to math and science because of the strict rules. There’s only black and white. “I like the simplicity of it,” Lavallee says. “There’s a rule to everything.”
And the smell? He’s long since gotten over that. He doesn’t even smell it anymore. The only thing he smells is victory.