USA Wrestling Session IV Notes: Th...

Session IV Notes: They said it – Cool quotes from the NCAA semifinals winners, and two top coaches

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 18, 2017, 12:52 a.m. (ET)

Darian Cruz of Lehigh jumps for joy after winning his 125-pound semifinal against Iowa’s Thomas Gilman. Photo by Austin Bernard.

Our Session IV notes will be using the words from each of the 20 semifinals winners at their post-victory press conferences, along with Penn State coach Cael Sanderson and Mizzou coach Brian Smith.

While a full arena of fans and millions across the nation watched the NCAA Wrestling Championships finals, there was a small group of journalists who interviewed the 20 winners in a small room underneath the stands. Each of the athletes and coaches have a different style of expressing themselves.

This is my pick for the “best” of their statements, from more than two hours of interviews. Some were funny, some were very inspiring, some were just plain different and interesting. Here is what they were saying behind the scenes.

Q. Could you describe the past year the way it started? You were suspended and for it to end like this?
Lizak: Yeah, I was just really sad about what happened this past, like, year and I knew I had to make up for it big-time. So, this summer, I got a job working landscaping. Was up at 6 shoveling rocks, doing a lot of stuff and that was basically my lift for the day. After that, I'd go for a run, 5 to 10 miles every day. I think that's helped a lot this year. Especially working with Zach Sanders. He's helping me a lot especially on my feet wrestling. I think it's been showing I've been getting more takedowns in the Big Ten and in this tournament.

On facing Ethan Lizak of Minnesota in the finals, who is from Cruz’ area of Eastern Pennsylvania
Q. You came a long way to wrestle a kid from right down the road. What's it going to be like tomorrow night, an All-District 11 National Final?
Lizak: We have wrestled each other since we were peanuts in the wrestling league and K-6 and I actually beat him up when we were little. We were both tiny kids as you can imagine. We got to college and didn't really see each other until this year. Actually he kinda beat me up on the mat. He got really tall and I didn't.

Q. When the official raised your arm it looked like a lot of pain. How much can you move that arm? How much has it changed your style?
Clark: First of all, one of my main goals as a competitor is to show no pain, show no emotion. So that sucks that you noticed that hurt. To be honest, we're in the national finals. It doesn't matter if you cut my arm off. Doesn't matter what kind of pain I'm in. Doesn't matter at this point. Tomorrow is what matters and I'm not going to sit here and say this hurts or this hurts, and once the tournament is over I'll be glad to sit down and tell you what hurts. Not to be an ass, but it's kinda how I feel.

On getting in trouble when he wrestled for Iowa, and what has changed in his life.

Q. What do you remember basically two years ago this week when everything went down at Iowa? Contrast your feelings then to now?
Gross: Two years from this day I was in jail. I mean, it's crazy to think what God has done for me and my team has done for me, my family, and everybody that's had my back since then. Looking back that day I never thought I would be wrestling in the NCAA Finals two years from now. I thought my wrestling career was over. It's an amazing feeling. Can't thank God enough. Just trying to use the best of my opportunity, my coaches that God has given me and everybody that was rooting for me. I'm doing this for them.

On facing fellow Cleveland-area opponent Dean Heil in the finals on Saturday
Q. George, we've got a Holy War coming up. How special is it that you get to wrestle Dean in the NCAA final?
DeCamillo: It's special. Dean is the reason I train as hard as I do. It's simple. He's the defending champ. We have history. We have bad blood. We've wrestled since he were little kids. He took away my dream of a high state championship when I was a sophomore and he took away my dream of a Scuffle Championship this year. So I'm coming after him.

Comparing last year’s chip on his shoulder to this year’s approach to wrestling

Q. Dean, last year at Madison Square Garden you were fired up about people always betting against Dean Heil, probably had a chip on your shoulder. Do your haters motivate you? Does that make you want to win even more? What's the difference from last year at The Garden and now?
Heil: Last year I was hyped about everything, outspoken about everything I do. This year is different because I'm not trying to defend anything. I'm out there to win my second title and I'm just trying to stay humbled. We saw that with, you know -- not trying to talk down on Gilman, but he was seen as a villain. He talked a lot of smack and what happens when you talk smack and you don't hold up on it? Now you look like an idiot. Everybody is saying stuff about me and they're probably waiting for me to come out. I'm going to sit here, stay humble and do what I can. I'm going to show it with my wrestling. That's all that matters.

Q. When you think about the guys in your room, Molinaro and others, what's it like coming out here? Is it almost too easy for you when you have those guys in your room?
Retherford: Not at all. You're competing out here. You've got to show up every match. I love wrestling with those guys because you get so much better and you can pick up something new from each guy in the room, but you're the one that has to step out there and wrestle. It's definitely not easier. You get some good feels and you get some things from those guys, but you ultimately have to show up on that mat.

On facing returning NCAA champion Zane Retherford in the finals.

Q. You're getting ready to wrestle a guy who has dominated this tournament the last two years. What do you have to not do to avoid that from happening?
Mayes: Well, it's probably bad if I say this, I can be a man and wrestle. But that's assuming that other people haven't been men to wrestle. I don't know. One of the greatest pieces of advice I got was from Mark Ellis, he was our assistant coach my freshman year the year I redshirted at Mizzou. He was talking about getting off the bottom. If you were in prison and you let another guy hold you down for two minutes you know what happens. And it was like, you're right, I'm going to get out. That year was so rough for me on bottom, but that's the mantra that you need in this. That could be life or death and if you treat it like that you will find a way, so I will treat tomorrow like it is life or death and hopefully I find a way to come out on top.

Q. Now you're in the finals here; talk a little bit about what you would see as being the perfect kind of match for you to show what you want to show when you're wrestling for tomorrow night.
Nolf: To get a pin, because, I mean --
Q. How, does it matter how?
Nolf: No, it doesn't really matter. Just some guys you've got to open them up a little bit more before you get the pin. I had that cradle locked up in that match, and it just slipped a little bit. But yeah, I'm just looking to -- if I can take the guy down and pin him right away, that's what I do. That's what I try to do. But some guys just kind of ball up a little bit, and some guys have more energy. But I would look to take that out of them as I'm wrestling and just continually just score points and then that'll open up the pin.

On his victory over Cornell’s Dylan Palacio, late in the match

Q. Could you talk a little bit about that exchange at the end where you won the match? Again, we know your opponent likes to do goofy stuff, but you were able to change it into a winning takedown.
LaVallee: Just honestly, it was just belief in my coaches and stuff. And like when they were challenging that call in the beginning for a near fall, my coach would say, you're good, keep composed, you're good, just keep u to the game plan. Keep solid wrestling, solid base wrestling. Coach Joe was telling me, okay, you need to cut the corner a little bit so he can't get to your ankle, and just going back to basics so that he can't get to that. And it finally benefitted me towards the end of the match.

On winning his third NCAA title, with a chance to win a fourth as a senior

Q. Any idea about getting closer to history, though? Talk about that.
Martinez: The idea of getting closer to history? I try not to let my ego get in the way of my competing, but it's not a secret, I want to be one of the greatest of all time, and to be recognized as one of the greatest of all time, and I think about that a lot. You know, I'm very close to being considered one of the greatest of all time in college wrestling. Obviously there's freestyle, but to me, being the greatest is not just about a record. Cael Sanderson, obviously he's the guy at 159-0. Maybe I will never be able to match his record, but the way I speak, the way I talk to people, the way people can relate to me, the way I compete, the way I give people exciting matches, to me that's greatness in its own right. Being great is not just about a record, but about how you are and how you present yourself to the people, to the fans.

Q. Have you ever been a part of something like this, kind of this crazy run you guys have been on, just any team even when you were five, six years old?
Joseph: Have I ever been on a team like this? Absolutely not, no. My team in high school, we'd be lucky to qualify two guys to the state tournament. This is a completely different atmosphere for me, and I love it.

On the size difference between Hall and semifinal opponent Zahid Valencia of Arizona State.

Q. Mark, you guys were on the same world teams in quite different weight classes. From television, he looked a heck of a lot bigger than you. Talk about how that size difference didn't really ultimately matter when it came to when you needed the score.
Hall: Yeah, he's an 86, 84 kilo on junior world team, I was 74 kilo, and yeah, it just happened that he came down. Anyways, people were saying, you're too small, you're giving up a lot of size, but at the end of the day, you just wrestle seven minutes, and what comes out of that seven minutes has nothing to do with the size. It's not about the size of the dog in the fight, it's about the size of the fight in the dog, and I think that's the best way I can put it. You just wrestle. That's the best way I can describe it.

Q. Considering the Big Tens and now the last two matches here, are you now the comeback kid for Ohio State?
Jordan: I hope not. That's not a good -- I don't think that's a really good thing. Exciting for the fans, but I'd rather be out in front in the match, obviously. But yeah, I've won a lot of matches where I came from behind, so it's a lot of fun.

Q. You guys just won five semifinals in a row, five straight weight classes. Could you talk a little bit about the quality of the guys in those weights and just how you feed -- work together to get to that? I can't remember five in a row for at least a while.
Nickal: Yeah, I mean, we're pretty good. It's awesome. I'm really grateful to be a part of the team. Just the quality of guys, not only wrestlers, but just the quality of people that we have on our team. Really, it's incredible, and it just makes me just take a step back each and every day, and I just feel so lucky and so grateful to be a part of the team that I'm on. It's awesome being with all the guys for sure.

On perhaps being the last match of the night during the finals on Saturday.

Q. If that would be your last match in college and it was the last match of the evening, would that affect any way that you look at it?
Dean: No. You know, it's just another match at the end of the day. Two people get out of bed, same way, put on their clothes the same way, go to work the same way, just wrestling another match, and that's all it is. It's a lot of fun, you know, with all that kind of stuff. But those are really just distractions from the task at hand, and I'm just going to prepare the best way I can and wrestle the best I can. I can't control the rest. I'm just grateful for the opportunity, and looking forward to it.

On his semifinals match against Kollin Moore of Ohio State

Q. This match, a lot of points. You guys are big guys, you're moving, you're shooting. Talk about how it ended up that you were able to get it when you needed it.
Pfarr: You know, obviously after my last match, I had a little interview, and I just said -- when they asked me what you guys should expect tonight, and I just told you it's going to be a high scoring match. Kollin and I, we`re almost cloned carbon copies of each other. It's kind of scary, actually. Great offense and so do I and we both scramble really well, so I knew that was going to be it. Looking back on my Big Ten, I was final relying too much on my scrambling and putting myself in bad positions, and this time it was all about squaring my hips, staying strong, and taking the points when they`re there and not pushing the envelope too far.

On his mother singing the National Anthem prior to the semifinals, in front of a sell-out crowd.

Q. Obviously, you've heard your mother singing before, for many of us it's the first time. Talk about what she did almost to set the tone for your group tonight.
Cox: I think, one, everybody was -- they were watching it, and you know, it's just -- I think it's just awesome to have more -- I won't call my mother a fan, but for everybody else, she's just another fan. For me, she's my mother. But the guys get to see that people are actually here for us. We're in St. Louis. It's our hometown. Yeah, we've got the Ohio States, we've got the Penn States, and a lot of other states here and universities and people are here to cheer them on, but this is St. Louis. This is St. Louis, Missouri. This is some of our guys' hometown, so let's do what we do and just sing the National Anthem and get hyped up. And the National Anthem that we've heard plenty of times, but each time you hear it later on in the season that anthem gains a lot more meaning and a lot more drive behind it, so that was just awesome.

Q. Ty Walz is a tough kid. It isn't easy to beat him. What was the key to getting the edge in that match because obviously both you guys are talented enough to be finalists?
Medbery: Yeah, you know, I think beating him once is pretty tough and I've had to beat him three times this year, so I think just trying to take the challenge head on, know what kind of match it is, know what kind of style it's going to be, and it's going to be aggressive, and it turns into a wrestling match. I know there's a stereotype with heavyweights that it's just kind of pushing around and stuff, but I think that's changing a lot, and I think these -- look at the semifinalists, I was the biggest one at 260, and just being able to move well and being able to circle and get off shots and get to your own attacks is really important.

Q. I'm always asking you about helping old ladies across the street, signing autographs, kissing babies. Your life has totally changed since August and your Olympic gold medal, and it hasn't stopped. You're going overseas, missing dual meets. Is it going to slow down? Are you finally going to take a break and let your ribs heal after tomorrow night?
Snyder: No, I'm not going to slow -- I'm just kidding. Yeah, I'll probably slow down a little bit. I'm definitely going to let my ribs heal. I wasn't expecting my ribs to get hurt. I kind of had a similar thing done -- this is my left ribs, but on my right ribcage I had a similar injury, and it took me about a week to get it completely good. So I'm hoping this one heals up fast, but people always ask me if I'm going to take breaks, and I mean, right now, I mentally feel motivated to train. I feel physically motivated to keep working out, keep lifting, keep conditioning. Obviously I wasn't planning on my ribs being hurt, but I'll try to get back on the mat as soon as I can after this tournament, just because I like practicing. I like being around the guys on the team and talking, and I like the hard work. I like that part of it.

Q. Almost to a man all five guys that came in this room said that you really preach having fun. What do you define as fun for these guys?
Sanderson: Just wrestling well, being yourself, right, enjoying the competition, just being grateful for the opportunity we have to be here, and for all the little things that you take for granted. I think there's a lot of ways to describe fun, but we enjoy what we're doing. They love wrestling. Just because there's a big match on the line, that doesn't mean anything changes. You either love it or you don't, so we just try to enjoy what we're doing, and at the same time prepare these guys to be successful because that's what is the most fun.

Opening Statement - This is a good day, good round. Friday night, you go 7-0, it's a real good round. I know we scored some bonus points in there, and our freshman Jaydin Eierman knocked off two really good kids with the Princeton kid and a Stanford kid, so getting three in the finals. Coming into this tournament, I talked with my staff and we've had a bunch of guys make the finals before, and we've never had two in one year, and to get three at home here in Missouri, that's fun.

Special thanks to the NCAA and ASAP Sports for their outstanding and timely transcripts from the semifinal press conferences.