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Yianni is back and ready for encore

Yianni Diakomihalis before wrestling in the NCAA finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- For the record, his last name is pronounced dee-aka-ma-hall-iss.

But most people don't worry about that.

All you need to know is the name he's best known by.

Yianni.

Cornell's Yianni Diakomihalis made a name for himself with an amazing performance at the 2018 NCAA Championships that was immediately described as legendary.

It would be difficult to argue with that.

Diakomihalis turned in a memorable and unlikely performance en route to winning the 141-pound national championship as a true freshman.

The No. 3 seed, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in his quarterfinal match.

All he did after that was defeat the two-time defending national champion at the weight (Oklahoma State's Dean Heil), avenge his only collegiate loss (Missouri's Jaydin Eierman) and knock off the top seed and reigning national runner-up (Wyoming's Bryce Meredith).

"Mind over matter," Diakomihalis said. "I knew something was wrong, but I believed it enough and I kept telling myself, 'It doesn't matter. Just grit it out, do whatever you've got to do.'"

Yianni Diakomihalis defeated Wyoming's Bryce Meredith to win the NCAA title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

With his right knee heavily bandaged, Diakomihalis capped his 37-1 rookie season in impressive fashion. He scored five points in the last minute of the match to earn a dramatic 7-4 finals win over Meredith.

"It's just remarkable what Yianni did," Cornell coach Rob Koll said. "It just shows the kind of kid he is and he wasn't 100 percent. But when you get to the national championship, you do what you've got to do."

Diakomihalis became just the second Cornell freshman to win a national title, joining four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake in that exclusive club.

He underwent surgery immediately following the NCAA tournament last March and returned to competition Sunday afternoon when No. 8 Cornell rallied for a 21-14 win at Northern Iowa.

The top-ranked Diakomihalis came out strong, earning a convincing 12-2 major decision over No. 10 Josh Alber of UNI.

"Honestly, I thought Yianni looked a little rusty, but it's hard to complain when he's wrestling somebody that good," Koll said. "That's a good sign when he's dominating a very, very talented opponent."

Diakomihalis scored a quick early takedown to lead 2-0 after first period. The lead grew to 5-0 after the second period before he finished strong in the final period. He cradled Alber to his back in the closing seconds and nearly recorded a fall before time expired.

"I felt great -- this was a good test against a really good opponent," he said. "I'm happy with my effort and felt like I wrestled pretty well for my first match back."

Diakomihalis said he had surgery 11 days after winning NCAAs last March. He was able to start drilling after four months of recovery and rehabilitation. He wasn't able to resume live wrestling until nearly seven months after the surgery.

"It's great to be back," he said. "It's a different year, but my motivation is the same and my goals are the same. I want to win another national title."

The success Diakomihalis enjoyed as a freshman wasn't totally unexpected.

Yianni Diakomihalis won his first state title at 99 pounds by defeating current Cornell teammate Vito Arujau (Photo/Boris Veysman)

He arrived at Cornell with lofty expectations after capturing four New York state high school titles and winning a pair of Cadet world titles for the United States in freestyle wrestling.

He entered the 2018 NCAA tournament in Cleveland with just one loss and was considered a legitimate title contender.

But then disaster struck.

Diakomihalis badly injured his right knee during a scramble early in his quarterfinal bout against Heil in the Friday morning session.

Following the match, it was determined that he had likely suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

Diakomihalis didn't even take injury time against Heil and won that match before winning his next two bouts to become an NCAA champion.

Even with the injury, he never became rattled and wrestled with amazing poise and composure during the biggest matches of the season.

"Being in those close matches is something I was prepared for," he said. "We train for those situations where we are down one or two points late in the match and we have to go get one. I was able to capitalize at the end."

Koll initially didn't believe his star freshman had torn his ACL because of how well he had wrestled after suffering the injury.

Diakomihalis, known for his funky style and big-move capability, definitely had a flair for the dramatic in his remarkable run at NCAAs.

He scored a late takedown to rally past Heil in the quarters. He followed by taking Eierman down in sudden victory to prevail in the semis.

He then added the exclamation point in the finals. He rallied from a 4-2 deficit with an escape, takedown and two-point near fall after cradling Meredith in the closing seconds.

"When I saw the bracket, I knew it was going to be really tough. There were some great wrestlers on my side of the bracket," Diakomihalis said. "I fell behind in some matches, but I just kept battling and believing I could do it. I was able to find a way to win in every one of those matches."

Yianni Diakomihalis raises both arms in celebration after winning the NCAA title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

After his finals triumph, Diakomihalis stood and raised both arms in celebration as fans in the Cornell section stood and cheered.

"Every time I step out there, I know I have that scoring potential and a lot of ways I can score," he said. "My coaches have instilled that confidence and belief in me that I can score no matter what situation I am in. You never have fear if you believe in yourself."

Diakomihalis was asked Sunday if he can still believe what happened last March.

"It's one of those things that I wouldn't have believed," he said, flashing a smile. "But at the same time, it's crazy. I don't know where it came from that I had the mental fortitude to get through all of that. I do know that I had a lot of people, like my trainers and coaches, that helped me get through it."

He proved that you don't always need experience to win right away in college.

"You're never too young to have that success," he said. "You can't back down from these guys just because he's a redshirt senior, he's 24, he's a national finalist, all that stuff. If you put the work in and develop the tools that you need, you can be successful at a young age. And the coaches at Cornell can make you successful if you buy into their system. I bought into their system, and I believed in myself, and they believed in me, and I think that my results show what happens when you buy in."

Mike Grey talks to Yianni Diakomihalis at the 2017 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

Diakomihalis is just a 19-year-old sophomore, but he's already established himself as one of Cornell's leaders.

"Yianni just really continues to impress me. The kid works out twice a day, seven days a week. We have to kick him out of the room sometimes," Koll said. "He obviously has a great work ethic, but he also has the intangibles and the athleticism that allow him to really be successful."

Diakomihalis also is hoping to contend for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team in freestyle wrestling. He plans to compete at 143 pounds in freestyle.


"I'm still young enough to try out for the Junior world team, but I'm going to try out for the Senior world team (in 2019)," he said. "Hopefully, I make that team. That's the goal.

Yianni Diakomihalis with Brandon Slay after winning his second Cadet world title (Photo/United World Wrestling)

Diakomihalis missed the freestyle season this past spring and summer after having knee surgery.

"I love freestyle a lot," he said. "It was tough missing out on it and not being able to compete. I really love freestyle."

For now, his focus is on folkstyle wrestling and his sophomore season in college for Cornell.

"The goal for last year was to win, and the goal for this year is to win, and I know that sounds really simple," he said. "I think the biggest thing is that I always believed I was the best guy, and it doesn't come from arrogance. It's that I trusted myself, and I trusted my coaches.

"I wasn't going into the season like, 'Hopefully, I can be an All-American, maybe I'll win.' It was like, 'Not winning is not acceptable.' Moving forward, it's just about getting better every day and making sure I'm never happy with where I am at, and just constantly improving."

Diakomihalis also is on a strong Cornell team that is ranked in the nation's top 10.

"Our team is looking good," he said. "We've got some tough and talented wrestlers who go out there and compete hard. We're excited to see what we can do."

Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.

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