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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | November 6, 2018

Cornell wrestling: 5 questions with returning NCAA wrestling champion Yianni Diakomihalis

Relive freshman Diakomihalis' incredible NCAA title run for Cornell

When Yianni Diakomihalis won the 141-pound national title at the 2018 NCAA wrestling championship, he became only the second Cornell wrestler to accomplish such a feat as a freshman. He took down 2016 and 2017 national champion Dean Heil, two-time All-American Jaydin Eierman and NCAA finalist Bryce Meredith on his way to the national final, wrestling his last three matches of the tournament with a torn ACL. The sophomore returns again this year, healthy and ready to chase another title. Diakomihalis enters the season ranked No. 1 in the Intermat rankings and expects to be back on the mat fully healed from his knee surgery in December.

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Here's everything you need to know about Yianni Diakomihalis' wrestling mindset, in his own words: 

What it felt like to walk out on to the mat for the NCAA final: 

Diakomihalis: I try my best to clear my head and be as relaxed as possible, so when I’m walking out there, I don’t really hear anything. I don’t really see anything but the mat. I only hear my coaches and, as far what’s going on in my brain, if I had wrestled on that national stage or if it was in the practice room with just a mat and my coaches in the corner, it’s the same to me.  I’m not really taking in the crowd or anything like that. I’m just pretty much going with it and just wrestling. 

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How he prepares every day to win another national championship:

Diakomihalis: The goal for last year was to win, and the goal for this year is to win, and I know that sounds really simple. 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 get an All-American, maybe I’ll win.' It was like, ‘Not winning is not acceptable.' Every day when I was evaluating myself, it was, 'Did you put the work in to be a national champion today? Did you put the work in to be a World champ or an Olympic champ today?’ Moving forward, it’s just about getting better every day and making sure every day I’m getting towards my long term goals, getting towards development and making sure I’m never happy with where I am at, just constantly improving. 

Where his grit and persistence comes from:

Diakomihalis: I was not notorious for being a tough wrestler growing up, but I think it’s something that everyone has and can be drawn out of you. Some people can draw it from themselves, and some people need it to be drawn out. It’s honestly just the state of mind where you’re comfortable with pain, and you’re comfortable with being exhausted, and you’re comfortable with all these things that people don’t want, that people maybe shy away from. It’s liberating because suddenly you don’t fear anything, you don’t fear wrestling hard, you don’t fear your exhaustion. I think it’s something that I didn’t have in high school, and my coach really got out of me my freshman year, and that has been a really big difference maker for me. 

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What surprised him the most about his first year of college wrestling: 

Diakomihalis: To be honest, I don’t know if it surprised me as much, but I feel like I was happy to see how much my coaches were able to change how I wrestled. It's the little things that you might not have thought about that really made a huge difference like lifting and doing extra conditioning and doing extra long runs, just things that you don’t really do in high school, that I didn’t really do in high school. I was really happy with how much the non-wrestling part of it makes such a difference for me, like training my mind and the mental side and training my body. I’m thankful for that because now I think I’m closer to competing like a grown man and less like a high school kid. 

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What message he hopes to send to the freshmen starting their Cornell careers:  

Diakomihalis: I just think it’s that you’re never too young to get that success. You can’t back down from these guys just because he’s a redshirt senior, he’s 24, he’s a national finalist, all this 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. 

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