Two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
If you follow EIWA wrestling, you noticed something was missing last year. The league lacked the usual firepower that it produces year in and year out. The conference was founded in 1904, making it the oldest in the country. At 17 teams, it is the largest conference based on quantity, after having only four member schools at its inception. Because of the rich tradition of the conference, one would suggest it produces numerous All-Americans (AAs) every year. And that assumption would be correct, as there has been an average of 10 AAs from the conference between 2010-2019. With the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, 21 AAs were crowned from the EIWA. Since these were based on rankings, I will ignore this number, as it is certainly an outlier. Let me be clear about that last statement, I certainly do not discount the individual wrestlers who earned this status. It is an amazing achievement, and anyone who wrestled at any level probably knows how hard this is to do. Obviously, they did earn it based on the season's results. But I am sure nearly 100% of these guys would agree that it's "different" than actually standing on the podium after three days of battle. As the old saying goes, "That's why they wrestle!"
This brings us to the 2021 season. The EIWA only had 2 wrestlers on the podium in St Louis. Zach Hartman wrestled in the semifinals, eventually losing to the champion (Shane Griffith of Stanford) and placing sixth. The other placer was Lou Deprez of Binghamton, who placed eighth after earning the third seed to begin the tournament. Why the huge drop in the number of All-Americans? The answer is simple, unfortunately. Seven schools were forced to sit out the entire 2020-2021 season. This includes the 6 Ivy League Universities, plus Franklin and Marshall College. If you are like me and not smart enough to apply to the Ivy League schools with wrestling, I got you covered. They are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Penn, and Princeton. Below is a list of the wrestlers I'm most excited to see, who were unable to compete last season due to their respective schools cancelling the season.
Honorable Mention - Wil Gil (141, Franklin & Marshall)
Hey, what's a "Top 10 List" without an honorable mention - right? Although this may be considered somewhat of a homer-pick (due to the fact I have been a volunteer coach at this school the past few seasons), I am very excited to see Wil compete as a senior this year. In 2019 he was the NCAA's first alternate after placing fifth at EIWAs, and in 2020 missed out on a wild card to NCAA's. This guy has some of the craziest matches and can wrestle with almost anybody. He gives coaches heart attacks. He took out EIWA top seed Sal Profaci in overtime in the blood round at the conference championships in 2020. Wil put up 31 wins and had 10 losses in 2020. Another year of training with Coach Tyson Dippery, Wil Gil is ready to catch some attention this year. Plus, he will be fun to watch!
#10 - Matt Kazimir (141, Columbia)
Outperforming his seed after going 26-9 during the year (7-5 against EIWA competition) is a sign Matt was peaking at the right time at the end of the 2020 season. Matt was the 2020 EIWA runner-up at the Yianni-less 141 lb weight class. Before the cancellation of the Championships in Minneapolis, the National Qualifier was squared off to wrestle the fifth seed, Dom Demas of Oklahoma, in his opening round matchup. He was looking to add his name to the endless list of NCAA All-Americans from perennial Ohio powerhouse St Ed's High School. When you have the privilege of rolling with Senior Level athletes like volunteer coach, Shelton Mack, every day, you can only get better. Keep an eye out for Matt, along with those lightweights that Coach Tanelli is producing in the city that never sleeps.
#9 - Michael Colaiocco (125, Penn)
The Blair Academy graduate was ranked in the top 10 during the 2020 season. He even earned the 11th seed at the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing 1-2 performance at the EIWA Championships. Everyone saw how talented he was during the year. Going 24-7 as a freshman, while wrestling the type of schedule that Penn has is nothing to gloss over. There have been questions swirling about how long he can hold that weight. Over the summer, he wrestled at 63 kg. (138 .9 lbs.) at The Summit 2 Event, hosted by the Pennsylvania RTC. My only question is, how strict are these weigh-ins at the exhibition events? Assuming he did make that weight without much cutting, I would expect to see him at 125 for at least the next year.
#8 - Philip Conigliaro (Harvard, 165)
Philip was given the 17th seed at the 2020 NCAA Championships. After placing third at EIWAs two weeks prior, he was set up to wrestle EIWA foe Zach Hartman of Bucknell. Hartman was victorious in overtime in their conference semifinal matchup. I saw Phil wrestler in November of the 2019-2020 season and thought he was good. Then I saw him wrestle at EIWAs and thought he was excellent. Continuing that upward trajectory, he recently placed third at Senior Nationals at the 74 kg bracket (163.1 lbs) while knocking off guys like Branson Ashworth and Jacori Teemer. Conigliaro will climb the rankings next year.
#7 - Quincy Monday (157, Princeton)
Monday is one of the most exciting wrestlers in the conference and possibly even the country. His fast, powerful blast doubles and his ferocious headlocks keep the crowd's eyes glued to his matches. His style of wrestling reminds me of the famous Forrest Gump quote, "Watchin' him wrestle is like a box of chocolates, ya never know whatcha gonna get." Anyway, Quincy was the EIWA runner-up, earning him the fifth seed before the tournament was cancelled. During that year, he defeated the 2021 NCAA runner-up, Jesse Dellavecchia of Rider. Even from a young age, the son of an Olympic Gold medalist was destined for greatness. The sky's the limit for Quincy.
#6 - Anthony Artalona (157, Penn)
Artalona, who missed the last half of the 2020 season due to injury, moved up to the 157 lb. weight class after being at the 149 lb. class the year prior. That season, he was the EIWA champion. This earned him the 13th seed at the conference meet. He lost in the first round and battled back to ultimately lose in the infamous blood round. It's been two full postseasons since we've seen Anthony in the EIWA. Incoming Penn RTC Athlete Jordan Burroughs (ever hear of him?) will help bring Artalona to the next level before his career is done at Penn. This makes it all the more exciting to see him in November 2021 and beyond.
#5 - Yaraslau Slavikouski (285, Harvard)
Yara earned the 10th seed at the 2020 NCAA Championships. After the tournament's cancellation, he was awarded "EIWA Freshman of the Year" for his achievements during his rookie year, including second place at the EIWA Conference Tournament. More recently, Yara has been busy on the international scene, taking bronze at the Belarussian Senior Nationals this spring. His steady improvement is inevitable due to the continuous training under the experienced Harvard coaching staff. Assistant Coach Jimmy Sheptock was a two-time All-American wrestler at 184 lbs. for the University of Maryland. Eventually, he coached another two-time All-American, heavyweight Youssif Hemida. Slavikouski will be a top EIWA competitor at the 285 lb weight class for the next few years.
#4 - Ben Darmstadt (Cornell, 197)
You can't talk about exciting wrestling and not mention Ben Darmstadt. In the 2019-2020 season, he recorded the second most falls in the nation at the D1 level. His 14 pins came in a total combined time of just under 24 minutes. Even with my limited math skills, I can tell you he puts dudes away, and he does it quickly. Darmstadt had a bizarre start to the 2019-2020 season, as he cut all the way down to the 184 weight class to start the year. Rumor has it that he had a nice Thanksgiving meal or two, because when he came back, he was back up to 197. After breezing through the conference bracket, he earned a four seed at the NCAA Tournament. With his long, lengthy body style, it really is a shame the tournament was cancelled. He would have been a very formidable matchup for anyone in the bracket. If his layoff year was spent in the weight room, adding some bulk, he will be even scarier to wrestle.
#3 - Vito Arujau (125, Cornell)
The Long Island native has not been in a postseason as a Cornell wrestler since March of 2019, when he placed fourth at the NCAA Championships. Vito outperformed his eighth seed, only losing to top-seeded Sebastian Rivera twice. Using his Olympic redshirt year in 2020, Vito has slowly climbed his way near the top of the U.S. freestyle chain. Last month, he finished as the runner-up at the Olympic Team Trials at 57 kgs. This is no easy task for a kid who is still in college. With his long list of accolades (in both freestyle and folkstyle), plus endless quality workout partners in Ithaca, expect Vito to battle it out for the EIWA crown in the years to come with the next guy on the list.
#2 - Patrick Glory (125, Princeton)
Glory had a fantastic, undefeated sophomore year up until the non-existent NCAA Championships. He was awarded the Ivy League Wrestler of the Year to conclude the 2020 season. The most recent Princeton wrestler to win the award, won it before Pat was even born. He is that type of talent for the Princeton team. After winning all 24 matches on the year, while claiming a Midlands and EIWA title, he was a Dan Hodge Award Finalist. Glory finished sixth as a freshman in 2019 to claim All-American honors. He can easily be a top-three guy in the nation, but it is a tall order to try and take out Spencer Lee of Iowa. Princeton is itching to compete again, which is understandable. They have been on the rise for a few years now. One would say that their prime "Glory" Days are just beginning…
#1 - Yianni Diakomihalis (141, Cornell)
This is the obvious answer. Everyone is already putting him in the Hodge Trophy running - the season is still six months out. Yianni was a past finalist for the award after winning his second NCAA title in 2019. On top of that, we all know the story of his incredible run as a freshman, winning the 141 lb. title on a torn ACL. You'll never hear him brag about it, though, because "Excuses are for wusses" - right Spencer Lee? More impressively, Yianni currently holds a 47-match win streak at the NCAA level. Diakomihalis also won the 2019 Ivy League and EIWA Wrestler of the Year awards. And if that's not enough, he was voted Outstanding Wrestler at the EIWA Championships. He has an argument of being considered one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world already at a young age, thanks to his win over the number one ranked wrestler in the world during an exhibition freestyle match in the summer of 2019. Because of this, many thought he was the favorite to represent the USA at the Olympics this coming summer at 65 kgs. Unfortunately, that tournament did not go his way. Yianni is staying positive and focusing on the future. This is what makes him special. What else can you say about Yianni? He does a little bit of everything and is so versatile with his style of wrestling. He's like a Greek version of the Swiss army knife when it comes to his wrestling abilities.
Raise your hand if you are excited about the upcoming season. With the COVID-shortened season and Olympic redshirts now in the past, the EIWA is poised to have a considerable uptick in All-Americans. Ironically, the newest member (Long Island University) has not been in the conference long enough to see it at full strength. With their recent transition from the Division II level and being in the heart of New York state's best wrestling, they have a great opportunity to climb up the EIWA ladder in years to come.
Lastly, as I mentioned previously, Jordan Burroughs will be moving to the Philadelphia area and begin his training with the Pennsylvania RTC. You can only imagine the impact he will have on the Penn and Drexel programs, which are already on the rise. The improvement of these types of programs only makes the EIWA stronger in the future. It's a great time to be a fan of EIWA wrestling!