NCAA wrestling: Forest Hills' Arrington eager to make a splash in Tulsa
Mar. 16—Ask almost any wrestler headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week and he'll tell you that it doesn't matter who is in his bracket — he'll have to beat the nation's best at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Forest Hills graduate Jackson Arrington is no different, but the North Carolina State freshman admits that getting a second-round matchup with Cornell's Yianni Diakomihalis would be a special opportunity.
"There's no other reason I'm wresting than to wrestle the best guys," said Arrington, who is the No. 17 seed at 149 pounds for the tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday. "Getting that match would be awesome. That's something I'm excited about."
Diakomihalis has a chance to cement his legacy as one of the sport's all-time greats. He won 141-pound titles in 2018 and 2019 and the 149-pound championship last season. He took a year off to prepare for the Olympics in 2020, then saw the Ivy League cancel its season due to COVID in 2021.
The man known simply as Yianni to most fans is 110-2 in his career and had won 75 consecutive matches before a shocking upset loss to Wisconsin's Austin Gomez in his first match this season. He's won 16 straight since then, with 12 of those coming by major decision, technical fall or fall.
Diakomihalis will be looking to join an exclusive club. Oklahoma State's Pat Smith, Iowa State's Cael Sanderson, Cornell's Kyle Dake and Ohio State's Logan Stieber are the only wrestlers to win four NCAA titles — although Iowa 125-pounder Spencer Lee could put his name among those greats on Saturday night.
Arrington knows that any wrestler who prevents Diakomihalis from winning a championship would etch his name in NCAA lore as well.
"I'd love to see another guy win four titles, but not in this case," Arrington said.
There's no guarantee that he'll get the opportunity to face Diakomihalis. The bracket pits Arrington (20-7) against Rider's Quinn Kinner (24-7).
The No. 16 seed beat Arrington 5-4 in December.
The initial pairings had Arrington facing Northern Iowa's Colin Realbuto, but Appalachian State's Jon Millner, who owns a pair of victories over Arrington, withdrew from the tournament due to illness.
Arrington finished as the Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up, falling to fellow freshman Caleb Henson in the championship match, but he points to that 4-2 loss as a sign of how he's gotten better during the season. Six weeks earlier, Henson beat Arrington 6-1.
"You could see the improvements that I've made since the last time I wrestled Henson," he said. "I wasn't satisfied, but I was happy with my performance."
Arrington was a three-time PIAA champion at Forest Hills and was a junior freestyle All-American, so while the NCAA tournament will be on a different level, he doesn't expect to be intimidated when he steps into the 19,000-seat BOK Center for the first time.
"You've just got to stay focused, not really worry about what's going on outside of wrestling," Arrington said.
"It's still just a wrestling match at the end of the day. I've wrestled in places like the FargoDome. I've just got to stay focused on my goals, put the blinders on and take it one match at a time."
While he does that, he admits there is one other intriguing name in his weight class. Central Cambria graduate Max Murin is just a few lines below him in the 149-pound bracket. A sixth-year senior at Iowa, Murin is the No. 8 seed, and while it would require that massive upset of Diakomihalis, the two could meet in the quarterfinals or in the consolation bracket.
"That would be interesting," Arrington said. "It'd be some good publicity for District 6 wrestling. That would be sweet. I've known Max for a while. It would be a cool match."
Murin won a pair of state titles for the Red Devils, so he was already a local legend when Arrington would see him at club practices as a youngster. Murin, now one of the old men of college wrestling, recalls those days as well.
"It's funny seeing them in the same bracket as me," Murin said of freshmen such as Arrington. "I've been in college so long, they're taking over and doing their thing in college. Hopefully, it keeps on happening like that, the Pennsylvania guys keep on doing their thing and keep on producing studs from the area."
In his first national tournament appearance, Arrington's ready to do his part.
"I feel like I'm peaking at the right time," he said. "Everything's coming together."