Photo: Yianni Diakomihalis after winning the CKLV 141-pound bracket. Photo by Richard Immel.
Yianni Diakomihalis is name that many wrestling fans recognize and few know how to pronounce. As he continues to climb up the college rankings, he’s starting to clear that up.
The highly-touted Cornell freshman put together a championship performance at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite last weekend, winning the 141-pound bracket.
“It was pretty exciting. I wrestled well, for the most part,” Diakomihalis said. “When it comes down to it, my goal isn’t to be a Cliff Keen champion. It’s great that I won this weekend, but it doesn’t stop there. That’s not the purpose of my collegiate career. There’s more ahead of me.”
He rattled off five wins in the two-day tournament. Two of his victories came over ranked wrestlers, including then-No.3 Bryce Meredith of Wyoming and then-No. 12 Josh Alber of Northern Iowa.
In the semifinals, the freshman phenom matched up with two-time All-American and 2016 finalist Meredith. The bout was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation, thanks to a first-period takedown from Diakomihalis and an escape and riding time point from Meredith. The match was sent into overtime. Just 15 seconds into sudden victory, a crazy scramble ensued, which lasted about 20 seconds. In the end, Diakomihalis came out on top with a takedown and the win, 4-2.
“It was a good match. He’s super scramble-y and super tough,” Diakomihalis said. “I just know that moving forward, if I want to win a national title, I have to win two or three matches like that. I’m going to have to suck it up and grit out a hard takedown.”
He moved on the finals, where he was set to face UNI junior Alber, who he had already defeated earlier in the year in a dual.
“That was a situation where I could have very easily set myself up for failure. I had just won a crazy match. Meredith was the favorite and I was set up to go against someone I had already beat this year. I could have written that finals match off and let that one get away from me, but my coaches told me to stay focused, get ready and wrestle hard for one more match.”
Diakomihalis opened scoring with a takedown within the first minute. He extended his lead to 5-1 by the end of the second period with an escape and late takedown. In the final two minutes, a takedown and riding time point for Yianni is what sealed the 8-2 win for the Cliff Keen championship.
With the win, Diakomihalis jumped from No. 11 to cracking the top-five with a No. 3 ranking.
“There’s definitely some stuff that I need to work on, but I think confidence-wise, I’m in a good spot because, in all honesty, I just wasn’t sure of where I stacked up against the rest of the field,” Diakomihalis said. “When I was wrestling Meredith, I knew what he was going to do, but I didn’t know how good he was going to be compared to how good I was. Coming out of this weekend, I’m confident that I can wrestle with any of those guys on my feet.”
Diakomihalis, a native of Rochester, N.Y., stepped on Cornell’s campus with an already impressive resume, which includes two Cadet World gold medals and four New York high school state titles.
He is only one of three Americans to win two Cadet World championships, becoming the first to do it in 2016, followed by Gable Steveson of Minnesota later that night and Kurt McHenry of Maryland, who accomplished the feat earlier this year. As far as four-time New York state champs go, Diakomihalis is one of only seven.
The choice to go to Cornell was easy for Diakomihalis and one that he made early.
“I was pretty young. I committed when I was a sophomore,” Diakomihalis said. “It was a good choice to make because I’m at an Ivy League school. I’m going to get a great education. Also, the coaches here are awesome I’ve gotten so much better since I got here compared to how I was in high school. Obviously, it’s me doing the work, but they’re giving me the right kind of information and the right kind of work. I was confident that coming here they would make me the best version of myself. Now that I’ve been here a few months, I know I’ve definitely made the right decision.”
Since Ivy League schools don’t do redshirt years, Diakomihalis was presented with the opportunity for a gray shirt year, which is when an athlete can postpone enrollment, giving them time to develop into a better wrestler before taking the mat.
Diakomihalis said he didn’t know what the best option was for him and was prepared to do whatever the coaches advised.
“The original plan was to take a gray shirt,” he said. “A while before I got on campus, Coach Koll called me and said he thought I was ready and that I would wrestle this year. Basically, I got the nod, so it was time to start acting like I was ready. Every day after that was focusing on winning a national title and getting closer to that goal.”
The Cornell coaching staff’s decision to wrestle Diakomihalis right away is proving to be a good one. So far, he boasts a 15-0 record with 10 bonus point wins and three wins against ranked opponents.
With his eye on the top of the podium in March, Yianni is focused on perfecting his wrestling. In the rankings, he sits behind two-time NCAA champion Dean Heil of Oklahoma State and two-time All-American Kevin Jack of North Carolina State.
“At this point, it would be counter-productive to come up with a strategy for guys like Heil and Jack because I have a zero percent chance of wrestling them before the national tournament,” Diakomihalis said. “For now, I’m focused on making myself better. You don’t want to play too much into someone else’s offense, but it’s good to be aware. It comes down to me being able to score, defend, get out and ride. Ideally, if I have perfect offense, perfect defense and perfect mat wrestling, it doesn’t matter what he does. The biggest thing right now is that physically I’m ready to fight and mentally I’m as sharp as I can be come March.”