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Diakomihalis wins third title, six others win second championship, Steveson leaves shoes on mat at exciting NCAA finals

by USA Wrestling

Gable Steveson of Minnesota flexes after doing his backflip to celebrate another NCAA title. Photo by Larry Slater.

DETROIT, Mich. – With the team race already decided, as Penn State clinched the team title on Saturday morning, the finals of the 2022 NCAA Championships finals became a display of the greatest individual college wrestlers in the nation, battling for the top prize in the sport.

Nine of the 20 finalists had won at least one NCAA Div. I national title coming in. After the last whistle of the finals, seven champions went home with another NCAA individual trophy. Penn State won all five of its NCAA finals matches, including four of those repeat champions. Oh, and an Olympic gold medalist did another backflip and left his shoes on the mat in retirement.

A great night for the sport of wrestling, for sure.

The finals started at 125 pounds, and the home crowd was pleased when No. 1 seed Nick Suriano of Michigan won his second career NCAA title, beating No. 3 seed Pat Glory of Princeton, 5-3. Suriano, a 2019 NCAA champion at 133 pounds for Rutgers, started the match in control. He scored a first period takedown and added a second period reversal to lead 4-0.

Glory needed injury time after the second period and lost his choice. Suriano took down, and things got a bit sideways. Glory worked off riding time. Suriano was hit with three straight penalty points, two for stalling and one as a caution for jumping the whistle, making the score 4-3. Suriano escaped to make it 5-3 and circled away from Glory in the closing seconds.

“Just proud for my mom, my family, they've been a part of it. Been a lot of ups and downs and adversity. That's life. But it threw me off. It took me to my knees. And that COVID thing happened at the Olympic trials, I didn't even know if I wanted to wrestle again. It was like that just had to put everything in perspective and decide if this is the kind of man I wanted to become again. And can I do it in a way that was cleaner and more organic to who I was,” said Suriano

In a rematch of the 2021 NCAA finals, Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State once again beat Daton Fix of Oklahoma State in the finals, 3-1, to claim his second title at 133 pounds. The key to the match was Bravo-Young’s first-period takedown. Fix escaped in the first to make it 2-1, then got a second period escape to tie it at 2-2. In the third period, Bravo-Young escaped for the 3-2 lead. With some crisp technique and great defense on display the whole match, Fix was not able to get his takedown. Fix, a 2021 World freestyle silver medalist for Team USA, became a three-time NCAA runner-up with the loss.

“It means everything. I am living my dream every day. I never thought, looking back, where I was a kid growing up in Tucson, Arizona, I never thought I'd be in this position, wrestling in front of my family in a pretty much sold-out arena. Never thought I'd be a national champ yet a two time champ. I'm excited and I'm going to celebrate this for a while,’ said Bravo-Young.

No. 1 Nick Lee of Penn State repeated as 141-pound national champion, with a 10-3 major decision over No. 15 seed and at-large selection Kizhan Clarke of North Carolina. Clarke scored the first takedown, and then it was all Lee the rest of the way. Lee escaped and took down Clarke to lead 3-2 after the first period. In the second period, he added an escape and a takedown. A third period takedown, plus over four minutes of riding time gave him the big win.

“I wasn't asleep. He's a good wrestler so he got that takedown, good technique and everything. But I think I just stayed calm and did my thing and the results kind of took care of themselves,” said Lee.

Securing a third career NCAA championship in three tries, Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell was dominant on his feet in an 11-5 victory over No. 10 Ridge Lovett of Nebraska at 149 pounds. Diakomihalis scored five takedowns, plus an escape, with two first period takedowns, two second period takedowns and one in the third. Lovett only scored on escapes. Diakomihalis has now won 75 straight college matches.

Diakomihalis won NCAA titles in 2018 and 2019, and has become the 50th three-time Div. I champion. In 2020, he took an Olympic redshirt year. In 2021, he did not compete when the Ivy League cancelled the season for all of its member institutions. Diakomihalis, a 2021 U.S. Senior World Team member, is now in line to pursue a fourth NCAA title as a senior, something only achieved four times in history.

“I mean it's not anyone's fault, Sometimes, people forget about you, not just me, the team. We're a top 10, top 5 team in the country every year. And all of a sudden, COVID happens, take another year off, stuff gets canceled. And it's like people forget how good of a team we're a part of. So we're back, we're here to stay. Hopefully it stays that way,” said Diakomihalis.

No 2 seed Ryan Deakin of Northwestern won his first NCAA title, with a 9-2 decision over No. 5 seed Quincy Monday of Princeton at 157 pounds. Monday scored first on a takedown, and a Deakin escape made it 2-1 after one period. Deakin tied it up in the second with an escape. In the third period, Monday took neutral position. During a scramble, Deakin was able to secure a two-point takedown and four more exposure points. Riding time made it 9-2.

“I mean, I love wrestling. I was going to be wrestling still either way. It just came down to being around people I wanted to be around. And just amazing coaches and teammates and I think last year was such a weird year. So it felt great to kind of go out on my terms and not the weirdness of kind of a quarter season last year,” said Deakin.

Also claiming a first NCAA title was No. 2 seed Keegan O’Toole of Missouri, who edged 2021 NCAA champion Shane Griffith of Stanford, 6-5. Griffith opened the scoring with a takedown, and O’Toole escaped, making it 2-1 after one period. In the second, O’Toole escaped to tie it at 2-2, but Griffith followed with a second takedown and a 4-2 lead, only to have O’Toole score a reversal to tie it at 4-4 after two periods. In the third period, Griffith chose neutral. O’Toole responded with a takedown on the edge to make it 6-4. Griffith escaped to make it a one-point match, but could not score again.

Griffith’s victory last year in St. Louis helped turn the tide that brought back Stanford wrestling and 10 other sports teams to the Stanford athletic program.

“I woke up this morning, it was hard to walk. I tried to drill a little bit. It hurt like hell. But like I said, faith over fear no matter what the circumstances were. I wasn't put on this earth to be afraid of anything. Having faith in my coaches, having faith in God. Having faith in my family. Everyone around me. I have amazing people around me. That's why I'm here, is that these people built me up to who I am. Without them I wouldn't be the person I am,” said O’Toole.

There was one finals bout featured a pair of past champions, No. 1 seed and 2021 NCAA champion Carter Starocci of Penn State against 2019 NCAA champion and No. 2 seed Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech at 174 pounds. It took overtime to determine the winner. There was no scoring in the first period. Starocci struck first with an escape in the second period. Lewis made an attack on the edge which referees did not score, but a challenge gave him the takedown and a 2-1 lead. Another Starocci takedown made it 2-2 after two. In the third period, Lewis escaped to go up 3-2. Starocci scored a takedown with 1:20 left for the 4-3 lead, but a Lewis escape forced it into overtime, 4-4. There were no takedowns in sudden victory. In the tiebreaker, Starocci scored an escape in just eight seconds. With Lewis down, Starocci rode most of the 30-second period before Lewis tied it at 5-5 with an escape. Starocci won it on riding time.

“I wrestled this match a million times in my head before. I mean, it's not my first rodeo. I've been here before. Trust my faith in God. I have his presence, his gifts, his love. That's really all I really need. And just go out there, perform and have fun,” said Starocci.

Avenging a loss in the Big Ten finals, 2021 NCAA champion and No. 2 seed Aaron Brooks of Penn State repeated as national champion with a 5-3 win over No. 1 seed Myles Amine of Michigan. Brooks scored a first-period takedown to lead 2-0. In the second period, Brooks rode Amine the entire period, locking up riding time. In the third, a Brook reversal made it 4-0. Amine escaped and scored a takedown to close it to 4-3. Riding time made it 5-3 for Brooks, who finished the season with a 2-1 record over Amine, who was a 2020 Olympic bronze medal for San Marino

“Whenever I was preparing for the Big Ten, it was a really bad week for me, just doing a lot of things, going backwards. Doing things that God freed me from, things that don't mix well with wrestling. After that loss with Amine, I think that was God calling me. He woke me up. I went home. Had two weeks to prepare, talked to God. And I know he wanted to use me. So I had to make sure I was in alignment with him, make sure I was walking, living the right way. Like I said he was calling me for a purpose. This platform is great to wrestle, but it's to glorify God. This stuff comes and go. I'm blessed with this opportunity, these gifts. They're not mine. He gives them to me to bring glory to him and get more disciples,” said Brooks.

Penn State scored a five-for-five finals sweep at 197 pounds, when Max Dean edged Jacob Warner of Iowa, 3-2. There was no takedown in the first period. Warner escaped in the second period, and Dean responded with an escape in the third to make it 1-1. Dean scored a takedown with 35 seconds left for a 3-1 lead. Warner escaped with eight seconds on the clock but could not score.

“I live a clean life. I eat the right things. I sleep. But I wouldn't be able to do any of that without the people around me. I've got the guidance of my coaches and they do it too. They live it. Healthiest lifestyle ever,” said Dean.

The final match of the evening featured 2020 Olympic gold medalist and 2021 NCAA champion Gable Steveson of Minnesota at 285 pounds, in what he has said is his last college match (his eligibility is not exhausted). He drew No. 2 seed Cohlton Schultz of Arizona, himself a 2021 U.S. Senior Greco-Roman World Team member. Steveson scored first-period takedowns, with a Schultz escape in between, to lead 4-1 after the first period. Each athlete scored an escape when in the bottom position, and no more takedowns were scored. Steveson earned riding time for a 6-2 win.

After waving to the crowd and hugging his coaches, Steveson whipped up the crowd noise then hit his patented back flip to the delight of the crowd. After blowing kisses to the crowd, Steveson took off his shoes in the traditional wrestling retirement ceremony. Afterwards, he was named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.

“It means a lot, going out there enjoying myself and putting time in and effort in. I took my shoes off, did a back flip. It's just what I do. I love to do flips. I've been doing flips since I was young. I was doing gymnastics class on the grass, on the trampoline. I had to put my shoes back on to go on the podium. But for now I'm done, for now I'm done,” said Steveson.

To review, tonight Diakomihalis became a three-time NCAA champion, and winning their second career titles were Suriano, Bravo-Young, Lee, Starocci, Brooks and Steveson.

With the five champions, Penn State jumped to 131.5 points, a full 36 points behind runner-up Michigan with 95 points. The NCAA gives four team trophies, so also honored were third place Iowa with 74 points and fourth-place Arizona State with 66.5 points.

“We're a team but we're made up of individuals. So, we just want to see our kids, same thing I say every time, we want them to be happy and reach their goals when they come to Penn State. Our job is to help give them the resources and whatever we can do to help them be the best they can be. When it works out for them, that's great. It doesn't most of the time. So when it does, it's a special thing,” said Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, who was named NWCA Coach of the Year for this year's nationals.

The Elite 90 award, which honors athletic and academic excellence, went to Jared Franek of North Dakota State. He had the highest GPA of all qualifiers, a 4.0 in Sports Management.


At Detroit, Mich., March 18

Championship Finals Results

125 - No. 1 Nick Suriano (Michigan) dec. No. 3 Pat Glory (Princeton), 5-3

133 - No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) dec. No. 2 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), 3-2

141 - No. 1 Nick Lee (Penn State) dec. No. 15 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina), 10-3

149 - No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) dec. No. 10 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska), 11-5

157 - No. 2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) dec. No. 5 Quincy Monday (Princeton), 9-2

165 - No. 2 Keegan O`Toole (Missouri) dec. No. 5 Shane Griffith (Stanford), 6-5

174 - No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) dec. No. 2 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech), TB-2, 5-5

184 - No. 2 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) dec. No. 1 Myles Amine (Michigan), 5-3

197 - No. 1 Max Dean (Penn State) dec. No. 6 Jacob Warner (Iowa), 3-2

285 - No. 1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) dec. No. 2 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State), 6-2

Team Standings

1 Penn State 131.5

2 Michigan 95.0

3 Iowa 74.0

4 Arizona State 66.5

5 Nebraska 59.5

6 Northwestern 57.5

7 Cornell 54.5

8 Virginia Tech 52.5

9 Missouri 49.5

10 NC State 49.0

11 Minnesota 48.5

12 Oregon State 44.5

13 Ohio State 44.0

14 Oklahoma State 38.5

14 Wisconsin 38.5

16 Princeton 38.0

17 Iowa State 37.0

18 North Carolina 32.0

19 Stanford 31.5

20 Northern Iowa 28.5

20 Rutgers 28.5