Wrestling is a demanding enough sport when you win a lot of bouts.

It's doubly difficult when you walk off the mat, again and again, on the short side of the scoreboard.

That's what makes Dustin Zuzulock's dramatic work at the Region 8 tournament so impressive, and that's why everybody in the West Deptford camp is so happy for the soft-spoken senior.

"It couldn't happen to a better kid," West Deptford coach Christian Scannell said of Zuzulock, a 106-pounder who has advanced to Saturday's semifinals with a pair of overtime victories.

Zuzulock might be a little overwhelmed by his two pressure-packed victories - "It's kind of unreal to me," he said - but he knows the source of his success.

He managed to stay loose, confident, and composed even as the tension has mounted in both his bouts. He won, 5-4, in an ultimate tiebreaker Wednesday night in the opening round, wrestling for 81/2 minutes with his scholastic career on the line.

On Friday, Zuzulock worked overtime again. This time, the No. 7 seed who entered the region tournament with a 22-12 record stunned second-seeded Travis Layton of Woodstown, registering a pin 33 seconds into the first extra session at Egg Harbor Township.

"To win again against wrestlers who are this good, it's such a motivator for me," Zuzulock said.

Zuzulock is part of a wrestling family. His older brother, Evan, was a top wrestler for West Deptford and now competes for York College.

Dustin Zuzulock has been a varsity competitor for the Eagles for four years and a solid contributor. But he has had nearly as many downs as ups.

He was slightly above .500 as a freshman, when he weighed around 94 pounds and competed at 106. He was a backup as a sophomore and was slightly above .500 again as a junior.

Even this season, as a senior competing at 106 pounds, Zuzulock suffered his share of losses. He entered the district tournament with a 19-11 record.

"So many things went wrong," Scannell said of Zuzulock's senior season. "It was like he was a third baseman and he kept getting bad hops."

Zuzulock acknowledged that his confidence was shaken a bit by a series of setbacks this season.

"Nothing was going right," Zuzulock said. "You know all the moves and you work hard and you try to do your best. . . . It can be frustrating when things don't go your way."

More than a few athletes would have walked away. Wrestling is no sport for the faint of heart, and it challenges the guys who deal with adversity even more than the studs who make their way to the upper levels of the pyramid.

The great thing about this story isn't just that Zuzulock hung in there and persevered in a manner that cast a positive light on his family, the wrestling program, and his entire school.

It's that Zuzulock has chosen the final stages of a pretty average high school career to suddenly start winning close matches against some of the best competition in South Jersey.

"He's wrestling so calm, so loose, so smart," Scannell said. "It's so easy to get down in this sport. Dustin never did. He always was positive. This is validation for him."

Zuzulock noted Wednesday that he had never advanced to Friday's competition. Now he's through to Saturday's semifinals, in which he'll meet Vineland's imposing Steve Bergamo.

"I had a lot of big goals when this season started," Zuzulock said. "Things didn't go my way, but I guess I picked the right time to shine."