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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | February 10, 2023

The top contenders for a national title at 149 pounds, beginning with Yianni's chase for history

Letter to future wrestlers, from Yianni

The biggest storyline at 149 pounds this year is simple: Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis is on the hunt for his fourth national title, a feat that only four wrestlers in history have ever accomplished. 

It’s a storyline Diakomihalis knows people want to talk about, one that could put his name in the record books forever. But it's also a story that creates motivation for every wrestler in the country at his weight. He's not just someone going for his fourth national title, he's a wrestler going for his fourth title in a weight class full of contenders. 

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“This whole summer, I was training to beat one guy, and that’s Yianni,” Wisconsin All-American Austin Gomez said in an interview with NCAA.com “I want to go out and make history and be the guy that stops Yianni from winning his fourth national title. I don’t think that’s been done, a guy being stopped from winning four.” 

Gomez, a sixth-year junior for the Wisconsin Badgers, made progress toward that goal when he shocked the wrestling world with his upset win over the three-time champ in November, delivering Diakomihalis his first loss since 2017 in decisive fashion. 

Gomez always believed he could pull off the upset, but he knows just what a big deal that win was for him, his team, and 149 pounds as a whole. It was a victory that put the rest of the weight class on notice. 

"[That win] boosted my confidence a lot, just saying that like ‘Hey, he’s not the guy at this weight class, there’s a new dog in town, and that’s Austin Gomez," Gomez said. "I think it just gave me so much more confidence, but it also put a target on my back because they know, all the 149-pounders know, now that this weight class got blown up after I beat Yianni." 

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Despite the result of that bout, Diakomihalis held down the top ranking in the weight class. Gomez had taken a loss earlier this year to Iowa State’s Paniro Johnson, and he later took a second loss by injury default to Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas in late January. His notable wins though, including ranked decisions over No. 6 Max Murin, No. 12 Doug Zapf, No. 13 Shayne Van Ness and No. 21 Chance Lamer, show that he's still a serious factor in this weight. 

His resume speaks for itself. Beyond the stats though, Gomez said he really just wants people to know that stylistically he’s the same guy that beat Diakomihalis once, and he’s ready to do it again, perhaps with even more offense. 

“I think even after I beat Yianni and had a comeback win against Zapf, (people) were already kind of writing me off and just writing Yianni’s name down as a four-time national champ,” Gomez said. “So I think for me, it’s just proving everyone wrong and proving myself right that I am the best guy in the country.” 

Gomez currently sits at No. 2 in InterMat’s 149-pound rankings. The rest of the field at the weight is just as motivated, hungry and determined to end up on top of the podium. 

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2021 NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso comes in at No. 3 with an impressive 20-2 record while Northwestern All-American Yahya Thomas holds down the No. 4 spot with his 17-2 record. Both of Thomas’ losses came against Sasso, while Sasso has taken his two losses against Colin Realbuto of Northern Iowa and Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech, strong wrestlers who are ranked No. 14 and No. 8, respectively. 

Then there’s Arizona State’s Kyle Parco, a wrestler with wins over All-Americans Brock Mauller and Jaden Abas but losses to both Sasso and Thomas. 

Don’t count out Parco. 

“I’m not one of those people that is just here for third, fourth place, or eighth place,” Parco said. “I’m looking for that No. 1 spot so when a person who has nothing to lose and someone who isn’t afraid to lose is out there on the mat, it’s a dangerous thing."

A two-time All-American, Parco has been a consistent and reliable point scorer for the Sun Devils since he arrived in 2021. He transferred from Fresno State where he finished sixth in his rookie season.

Parco's become known for his slickness and speed through his career, skills he developed even further this season training with the talented lightweights in Tempe. He also has a unique bond with NCAA finalist heavyweight Cohlton Schultz whose leadership Parco has learned from during his two years with the team.


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These teammates have created an environment where Parco has been able to improve, he said. He expects the Sun Devils to be in the hunt for a team trophy again this year while Parco individually chases top honors in his deep weight class. He knows anything can happen in March, but he's put himself in the best position possible to make some noise. 

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“At the end of the day, there’s about eight or nine guys that are in contention for a national championship and any of those guys can win it," Parco said. "So my job has just been creating a bigger gap between me and the rest of the field.”

He's not the only one looking to build a gap. 

Iowa State's No. 10 Paniro Johnson, for instance, believes he belongs in that title conversation too, and he has a good reason to hold on to this belief. He’s one of just two wrestlers this year with a win over No. 2 Gomez, and he 12-3 on the year with losses to Diakomihalis, Parco and John Wiley, but none of those losses came by more than two points. His ability to keep matches close and wrestle tough through the full seven-minute match and beyond make him a serious contender.

“I feel like I’m one of those guys in the bracket that everyone feels like they have a chance against me, but nobody in the bracket feels like this is an easy matchup for them,” Johnson said. “I just know that I can beat anybody, and I can hang with anybody.” 

As the postseason nears, and these wrestlers continue to make adjustments, all eyes will be on 149 pounds and the cast of characters who will be trying to win a national title by stopping three-time champ Diakomihalis from winning his fourth. 

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Diakomihalis' advantage though, in addition to his elite skill, toughness and high wrestling IQ, is that he's been here before. He knows how to win.

“Guys continue to change their game plan and how they want to wrestle me,” Diakomihalis said. “I’ve been forced to kind of, year by year, expand what I can do to combat these guys that are just sitting on whatever my best move was, and it forces me to develop something new.” 

A new and improved Diakomihalis is a dangerous reality for the rest of 149 pounds. 


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