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April 12, 2010

On the mat with All-American Chris Diaz

By: Matt Kovatch

Photo courtesy of Mirror Image PhotographyJunior Chris Diaz became Tech's first All-American since 2006 when he placed eighth in the 141-pound bracket at last month's NCAA Championships.

Virginia Tech junior Chris Diaz helped the Hokie wrestling team take the next step toward becoming a national power with his eighth-place All-America finish at the NCAA Championships in the 141-pound weight class on March 20. He recently provided some insight into his accomplishment with a brief Q&A.

IHS: How did it feel to become Tech’s first All-American since 2006 and the first All-American for this coaching staff?

CD: “It felt really good to be our staff's first All-American because I felt like I lived up to my promises to them. I’ve told them ever since I've been here that I would be their first. There are no words to describe how good it feels to be up on that stand and it only makes me want to be at top of the podium next year.”

IHS: [Associate head] Coach [Tony] Robie said you’ve had a bad habit of not wrestling well in the first match of a tournament. Why do you think that is, and how much harder did you have to wrestle to come back from your loss in the first round?

CD: “Having a bad first match is partly mental and not getting the right warm-up in. It’s not that I was looking ahead toward my next opponent – I just think it was mostly mental and not being ready to go. I had to be mentally prepared in the consolations because you wrestle a lot more matches back-to-back, with one more loss putting you out of the tournament. A lot of people that lose a match cannot refocus quickly enough to wrestle back for a third match.”

IHS: What was the toughest part about your run through the consolations? Could you feel the momentum building toward a berth in the final eight?

CD: “The toughest part of my run was avenging my loss with Alex Krom of Maryland. He's always been a good wrestler. I had wrestled him three times before that match and he had beaten me every time, but I wasn't going to let him get in the way of my goals at nationals. I wrestled hard the whole match because the last time he beat me, I relaxed and he capitalized on that. When I beat Krom was when I started to feel the momentum. I knew that I was going into the next match after that to win and take nothing less.”

IHS: What do you need to improve on for next season to advance even farther in the tournament?

CD: “For next season, I need to continue to get stronger and try to be the biggest guy in my weight class. I need to keep working on my bottom skills and the mental part of being on the bottom. If I keep doing all of the little things right, they will add up in the end and hopefully put me at the top of the podium.”

IHS: Many of the guys on the team have now experienced the NCAA Championships either this year or last year. How much have you all learned from the experience and how excited are you about the potential of next year’s team?

CD: “I couldn't be more excited about the team next year. Every year, we improve little by little and grow as a team. I think most guys know what it takes now to make it happen at the NCAA Championships and will keep putting in the extra work in order to be the best. It's my senior year, so I hope it ends with a bang and that we can bring home a team ACC championship and have multiple All-Americans.”

Here’s a look at how all six Hokies who competed in the national championships performed, along with some thoughts from associate head coach Tony Robie:

125: Jarrod Garnett (2-2)

First Round: def. No. 6 seed Zach Sanders (Minnesota), MD 17-6

Second Round: def. No. 11 seed Michael Martinez (Wyoming), 5-2

Quarterfinals: lost to No. 3 seed Matt McDonough (Iowa), MD 9-0

Consolations: lost to Nikko Triggas (Ohio State), 7-6

Robie’s take: “Jarrod drew the No. 6 seed and probably wrestled the best match I’ve ever seen him wrestle before losing to the eventual national champion. He’s probably the guy whom I was most disappointed for because he wrestled well enough to be an All-American.”

141: No. 11 seed Chris Diaz (4-3)

First Round: lost to Connor Beebe (Central Michigan), 5-0

Consolations: def. Kenneth Hashimoto (Northern Colorado), MD 13-1

Consolations: def. Elijah Nacita (CSU Bakersfield), 6-2

Consolations: def. No. 8 seed Alex Krom (Maryland), 4-1

Consolations: def. No. 2 seed Jamal Parks (Oklahoma State), 7-3

Consolations: lost to Germane Lindsey (Ohio), 4-3

Seventh-place match: lost to No. 3 seed Michael Thorn (Minnesota), Fall (0:56)

Robie’s take: “Chris did a great job wrestling back through the consolations. He won four matches in a row, all against quality guys. I thought he did a really good job of regrouping after a first-round loss. His determination was impressive because it’s not easy to do after you lose your first match. I give him a lot of credit.”

149: Brian Stephens (0-2)

First Round: lost to No. 8 seed Jason Chamberlain (Boise State), MD 14-2

Consolations: lost to Andrew Nadhir (Northwestern), 8-5

Robie’s take: “Brian had a bit of a tough draw in the first round against a kid who was just better than he was. But the nice thing about Brian is that I think he sees how good he is now. His confidence going into next year is going to be a lot higher.”

157: No. 3 seed Jesse Dong (2-2)

First Round: def. Joseph Booth (Drexel), Fall (2:53)

Second Round: def. Anthony Jones (Michigan State), 5-4

Quarterfinals: lost to Justin Lister (Binghamton), Fall (1:18)

Consolations: lost to No. 12 seed Steven Brown (Central Michigan), 5-1

Robie’s take: “Jesse did not wrestle his best in the tournament. There’s no question that Jesse had a great season, but our sport is all about the end of the year and coming out with an All-America trophy. I know he was disappointed because he had high goals, but he’s still a sophomore, so it’s exciting to know that he’s got two more cracks at it.”

165: Matt Epperly (0-2)

First Round: lost to No. 6 seed Dan Vallimont (Penn State), 8-3

Consolations: lost to Paul Gillespie (Hofstra), 9-2

Robie’s take: “Matt had a great ACC Tournament but in the first round at NCAAs, he drew the guy who ended up taking second in the nation. If Matt wants to be more than a national qualifier, he’s got to commit himself to doing so. He’s got the ability to do it, and if he sets his mind to it, he’s got a chance to be on the stand next year.”

184: Tommy Spellman (1-2)

First Round: def. Nick Purdue (Ohio), 3-2

Second Round: lost to No. 4 seed Michael Cannon (American), 9-2

Consolations: lost to Josh Ihnen (Nebraska), 4-0

Robie’s take: “I was pleased with Tommy’s effort. He wrestled hard, but I think he simply lost to a couple of guys who were a little better than him. He’s going to have to continue to work on his offense. He’s a guy who wrestles a lot of low-scoring matches, and that’s tough to do when you go against the best guys in the country.”