Four-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis (Photos/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The 2023 NCAA finals were slated to start at 157 lbs so that 149 lber Yianni Diakomihalis' quest for four national titles would take center stage. Although Diakomihalis' bout with Sammy Sasso was the bout that the crowd was anticipating the most, the previous nine bouts were extremely entertaining and captivated the 16,800+ fans that packed into the BOK Center.
In the opening stanza, Diakomihalis and Sasso exchanged leg attacks with each stalemating the other with stingy defense. Diakomihalis broke open the scoring in the second period with a reversal after some tough riding by Sasso. Later in the period, Diakomihalis locked up a cradle, one of Sasso's signature moves, and was able to earn a second takedown.
Sasso was able to cut the deficit to two points with a third-period escape. Late in the match, the two engaged in a prolonged scramble. At moments Sasso looked close to securing a tying takedown; however, he could never fully get behind Diakomihalis. Time ran out and Diakomihalis was the victor.
Diakomihalis' win makes him only the fifth wrestler to ever win four national titles. Interestingly enough, two competed for the Big Red; Yianni and Kyle Dake (2010-13).
While Diakomiahlis' career achievements were at the forefront, his teammate Vito Arujau turned in the most impressive performance of the finals. A match after dominating three-time national runner-up, Daton Fix, Arujau turned in a similar showing in the finals against two-time champion Roman Bravo-Young. Arujau took a commanding lead in the first period with a pair of takedowns and a 4-1 advantage. He would never relinquish that lead and only added to it with a reversal and backpoints in the second.
Arujau continued to pour it on a more-offensive minded Bravo-Young with an array of counters and reattacks. After a riding time point was added, Arujau was victorious, 10-4. For his efforts, Saturday night and in the previous rounds, Arujau was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler.
For the tenth time since the 2010-11 season, the tournament ended with Penn State taking the team title. The Nittany Lions outdistanced themselves from rival Iowa by 55 points (137.5 - 82.5).
Penn State finished with a pair of national champions after putting five in the finals. At 174 and 184 lbs, Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks, both captured their third titles respectively. Starocci put an exclamation point on his 24-0 season with a first-period fall over Big Ten finals foe Mikey Labriola. It was only his fourth of the season.
Brooks had a more workman-like display against a frequent opponent, Parker Keckeisen, the top seed at the weight. He cruised to a 7-2 decision to claim a national title for the third consecutive year.
Another storyline from the finals is a pair of schools breaking long-standing NCAA title droughts. First, at 125 lbs, Princeton's Patrick Glory squared off with one of the tournament's breakout stars, Matt Ramos. A day after pulling one of the greatest upsets in wrestling history, Ramos still needed to go through Glory to win a national title. That proved to be too much as Ramos was never able to get his offense going against the Princeton senior. Glory capped off his decorated career with a 4-1 victory to become the school's first national champion since Brad Glass in 1951.
Two matches later, Andrew Alirez, Northern Colorado's first national finalist since 1969, took home the crown at 141 lbs. The local Greeley native blew open the match in the second period with a beautiful throw for six points, one that technically was scored as a reversal. He prevailed over top-seeded Real Woods in the only clash between undefeated wrestlers on the night.
Another long drought that came to an end Saturday evening included multiple ACC wrestlers winning national titles. Before Saturday, the last time that feat occurred was in 1994 when Sammie Henson (Clemson) and TJ Jaworsky (North Carolina) took home titles. The wrestler that has matched or exceeded many of Jaworsky's achievements at Chapel Hill, Austin O'Connor, got the night started with a 6-2 win at 157 lbs. O'Connor never let dangerous true freshman Levi Haines get any offense going and chipped in with a pair of takedowns.
A few matches later, Nino Bonaccorsi ended his career with a national title at 197 lbs. Bonaccorsi was Pittsburgh's first national championship since head coach Keith Gavin in 2008. Much was made about the unpredictability of the 197 lb weight class; however, Bonaccorsi just won. His 5-3 win over South Dakota State's Tanner Sloan pushed his season record to 21-0. He'll finish as a two-time runner-up and one-time champion for his local university.
The third time proved to be the charm for Keegan O'Toole at 165 lbs. The Missouri Tiger squared off with 2021 champion, David Carr, for the third time in just over a month and finally was able to solve Carr. Match one was heavily tilted towards the Cyclone. Match two was closer, yet ended in a sudden victory fall for Carr. This time, O'Toole was able to finish shots and won the majority of the scrambles. The final tally for O'Toole was 8-2. Despite the multiple losses to Carr, O'Toole ends his 2022-23 season the same way he did last campaign, atop the 165 lb weight class.
Last, but not least, are the big men. At 285 lbs, senior Mason Parris finally got a chance to step on the top step at the NCAA podium. The Michigan heavyweight made the finals after an impressive tech fall of Iowa's Tony Cassioppi. He didn't have quite the same scoring output in the finals against Greg Kerkvliet, but he did fend off an early Kerkvliet attack, only to score himself. That put him in control in the first period and he never seemed seriously flustered. At 33-0 with a handful of wins over top contenders, Parris has to be considered one of the favorites for the 2023 Hodge Trophy.
2023 NCAA Championship Finals
157 lbs - #1 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) dec #2 Levi Haines (Penn State) 6-2
165 lbs - #2 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri) dec #1 David Carr (Iowa State) 8-2
174 lbs - #1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) fall #2 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) 2:46
184 lbs - #3 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) dec #1 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa) 7-2
197 lbs - #1 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) dec #7 Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State) 5-3
285 lbs - #1 Mason Parris (Michigan) dec #3 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) 5-1
125 lbs - #2 Patrick Glory (Princeton) dec #4 Matt Ramos (Purdue) 4-1
133 lbs - #3 Vito Arujau (Cornell) dec #1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) 10-4
141 lbs - #2 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado) dec Real Woods (Iowa) 6-4
149 lbs - #1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec #2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) 4-2