Freshman Diehl focused on MAC, national championships
February 27, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
As Liberty University's wrestling team gears up to try to defend its Mid-Atlantic Conference Championship title this Saturday at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., it is counting on a freshman, undefeated 133-pounder Ryan Diehl, to help carry the load.
The Flames will enter a total of 23 wrestlers in the tournament's 10 weight classes, seeking to qualify as many as two in all but heavyweight for the March 13-15 NCWA National Championships in Allen, Texas.
Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro said Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and The Apprentice School out of Newport News will pose the greatest challenge to the Flames repeating as champions.
"We're not overlooking anybody," he said. "We've got to come to wrestle, for sure. Last year (when Liberty hosted the MAC tournament), we had six individual champions, which is going to be tough to replicate. But I think they're ready."
Diehl certainly is, after picking up his 27th victory without a loss at last Friday's match against Ohio Valley University, the Flames' only home event at the Schilling Center. He has won four individual tournament championships, the latest coming in the 141-pound class at the Messiah Open.
"We've never had anyone in the history of our program come in and go undefeated this long," Castro said, noting Diehl was offered a full scholarship to compete at the University of Maryland, but didn't qualify academically. "He's clearly the most celebrated high school wrestler we've had in the history of our school as a freshman."
Success is nothing new for the wrestler who posted a 176-5 record throughout his high school career. He captured two individual state championships in West Virginia as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Trinity High School, a Catholic school in Camp Hill, Pa., as a junior. He faced stiffer competition in Pennsylvania, but still managed to conclude his prep career with two more state titles.
In the postseason, Diehl is looking forward to facing a couple challenging opponents in his weight class that he didn't wrestle at the NCWA National Duals, where he went 4-0 to help the Flames finish third as a team. They include a wrestler from MTSU at this weekend's MAC tournament and Sam Shames, the defending 133-pound NCWA National Champion from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at nationals.
"I'm just trying to continue to wrestle hard every match to the last whistle, keeping up the pace and acting like everyone's a national champion," said Diehl, who started wrestling at the age of 3. "The last couple weeks comes down to what matters most, the conference and national tournaments. Getting the national title is what everyone wants."
Castro said Diehl's experience on the mat allows him to execute takedowns, escapes, or reversals from almost any position.
"A dynamic of wrestling is you're always in a different position and he finds ways to score points no matter what position he's in, using his skills, technique and athleticism," Castro said. "He hates to lose … and he just knows how to win. It goes beyond just the head thing. He's aggressive."
Fellow Flames freshmen Timmy Nordan (125 pounds) and Josh Ferenczy (165) also have made a significant impact on the program this season. But Diehl has provided leadership on a team that has dealt with injuries to three of its top wrestlers — junior Keyshaun Ward (174) and seniors Royal Brettrager (184) and Aaron Thompson (197), Diehl's roommate.
He has followed his father's and grandfather's footsteps onto the mat and wrestled for his older brother, whose career was cut short by a medical condition.
"I'm the first one to go to college for wrestling in my family," Diehl said. "My brother is a senior in college and he used to wrestle up through middle school, but has a heart problem. He's really supportive. He pushes me, because he can't do it. If I need to lose weight, he'll work out with me."
Diehl would like nothing more than to finish his freshman season undefeated in honor of his family members, and Flames teammates.
"My biggest goal is to get the national championship and hopefully finish strong," he said.