With less than 30 seconds to go in the 141 pound title match, it looked as if Cornell wrestling would go a second straight year without a NCAA champion.
No. 3 seed freshman Yianni Diakomihalis (141) had other ideas.
In the final moments of the match, Diakomihalis executed a masterful four-point cradle to defeat top-seed Bryce Meredith of Wyoming, 7-4, and become a national champion.
“[Diakomihalis] usually waits until like 15 seconds left to win it,” said head coach Rob Koll. “It was a little nerve racking, not going to deny it. But there wasn’t a time where I felt like, ‘okay, he can’t win; he can’t pull this out.’”
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 18, 2018
The young grappler joins four-time national champion Kyle Dake ’13 as the second Cornell freshman to win the tournament, also at 141 pounds.
Diakomihalis, alongside classmates Ben Darmstadt (197), Max Dean (184) and junior Jon Jay Chavez (165), earned All-American honors over the weekend. Koll was nothing less than pleased with his team’s results from this weekend, and the season overall.
“If you told me at the beginning of the year we would have four All-Americans, win the Ivies and again have a 13-2 record, I would have been a little cynical to be quite honest,” Koll said. “Only one person on this team … who was there this weekend, had ever been to a national championship, and walking away with four All-Americans is just remarkable.”
Cornell came in at 35th in the preseason rankings but went on to finish seventh in the nation, an improvement from its eighth-place finish a year before.
Cornell finished inside the top 10 in the nation for the 11th straight season.
“We have finished top-10 every year … that’s just the expectation,” Koll said.
The highest seeded Cornell wrestler in the tournament was Darmstadt, who sported an impressive record of 31-1, with 25 bonus point victories, entering the weekend.
The 197-pounder’s path to a national title was stopped short in the semifinals where he lost by fall to No. 3 seed Jared Haught of Virginia Tech. Darmstadt would lose his next two consolation matches, placing sixth. Nonetheless, Darmstadt exceeded expectations in his freshman campaign.
“[Darmstadt’s] expectations were to finish higher,” Koll said. “But, there’s a two-time national champion who didn’t place in this tournament, so you got to be thankful for being in the top eight. The reality is, Ben didn’t start off as a varsity this year. He was beaten off the team.”
The third freshman to make the trip to Cleveland was Dean, who finished in 8th place and also had an impressive rookie campaign for the Red.
“Dean has just worked his butt off,” Koll said. “But I don’t think anybody would have expected him to place this year … Just based on his accolades, he wasn’t an All-American caliber kid.”
Dean fell out of the main bracket after losing in the quarterfinals to top-seed Bo Nickal of Penn State at 184 pounds. Nickal defeated Dean’s brother, Gabe, in the 184 title match in 2017.
Of the seven who competed at the NCAA Championship, not a single wrestler was a senior. For Koll and the rest of the program, it’s exciting to consider what the future holds for Cornell wrestling next season.
“I don’t think our team has ever had five All-Americans returning; I’d be surprised,” Koll said. “Very few teams have that type of power … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”