As senior Yianni Diakomihalis got off the mat after winning his fourth national championship last weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was clear he’d been in that position before. Unlike many of the day’s other champions who excitedly celebrated their victories, Diakomihalis simply shook his opponent’s hand, thanked the referee and walked off the mat, before hugging his teammates and coaches.
While this lack of celebration was a demonstration of Diakomihalis’s experience, it downplayed the significance of his achievement. After taking down Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso in the finals, Diakomihalis became only the fifth wrestler in NCAA history to win four titles. Fellow four-time national champion and Cornell wrestling icon Kyle Dake ’11 was among the first to congratulate him — the wrestler that Diakomihalis credits with being one of his biggest inspirations.
“Kyle was my hero,” said Diakomihalis in a post-match interview with ESPN. “He paved the way for me, not just by winning, but by being the man that he is.”
Despite having one of the most dominant careers in NCAA history — finishing 115-2 overall — his tournament run was not without obstacles. After easy victories in the first two rounds, Diakomihalis faced a major test in the quarterfinals in the form of Iowa’s Max Murin, but dispatched him 8-7.
After another tough match in the semifinals, Diakomihalis actually trailed 3-1 in the third and final round. However, Diakomihalis dominated the rest of the period to win 8-3 to set up a finals meeting with Sasso.
The champion controlled the bout, constantly attacking his opponent. Although he let a great chance to pin Sasso slip through his fingers when he failed to convert a cradle, the veteran Diakomihalis never looked close to losing, and took the championship, 4-2.
While Diakomihalis’s victory seemed inevitable at points, Cornell’s other national champion, junior Vito Arujau, was a bit of a surprise for many. Despite a 20-1 record, Arujau only earned the number three seed in the 133-pound bracket, which featured two undefeated wrestlers — three-time national finalist Daton Fix of Oklahoma State and Penn State’s two-time national champion Roman Bravo-Young.
Arujau commented on his very difficult weight class before the tournament.
“One hundred and thirty-three is definitely a competitive weight this year. There will be a ton of high level wrestling on display,” Arujau said. “The sport of wrestling has taught me that I can never be certain… but what I am sure of is that my training and preparations have made me ready to win.”
Arujau breezed through the early rounds of the tournament. Showcasing his superior strength, he scored many of his points by gaining control of his opponents before using his leverage to pick them up and slam them down on the mat.
After a competitive third round matchup against Virginia Tech’s Sam Latona, who had handed Arujau his only loss of the season, Arujau faced off against Fix in the semifinals. Fix, who lost in the national championship match his three previous seasons, was wrestling in front of a hometown crowd in Tulsa and looked determined to finally achieve his championship dreams.
This determination may have been Fix’s downfall, as he came out very aggressive in the first round, looking to finish the match early. Arujau was ready and able to survive a dangerous attack and secure a takedown, before using Fix’s momentum against him to take a 4-0 lead through a reversal. After a cagey second round, Arujau once again punished Fix’s attacks in the third, dominating the round and winning the match, 11-3.
In the finals, Arujau faced Roman Bravo-Young, who was coming off back-to-back national championships. Bravo-Young rode a 56-match winning streak into the finals, the longest in Division 1 wrestling. Arujau was unphased, however, and looked strong from start to finish. He won the match through his speed and intelligence, as he repeatedly circled his opponent, waiting for him to change his stance before darting forward and attacking Bravo-Young’s legs.
After two rounds, Arujau led 8-2, and a disciplined third round performance gave Bravo-Young no chance to win the match through a pin, as Arujau took the match and the title, 10-4. Arujau’s strong performances throughout the tournament also earned him the NCAA Outstanding Wrestler Award. A student of the game, he attributes much of his success to a strong mentality.
“I believe my mentality plays a large role in all my wins. It’s a source of pride for me as a competitor, and I believe it’s only getting stronger,” Arujau said. “Wrestling is a sport where one imposes their will, so a strong mentality can be the deciding factor in a lot of matches.”
Aside from their two champions, nationals was an excellent end to the season for Cornell wrestling, placing third as a team. Sophomore Chris Foca also took third place in his division, earning All-American honors, along with junior Jacob Cardenas, who earned eighth-place and All-American honors. And head coach Michael Grey ’11 earned NCAA Coach of the Year honors.