We have been discussing some of the top wrestlers in New York over the past few weeks. We started with our #1 Junior High School grappler in the state, Penfield eighth grader Frankie Gissendanner (see link),then profiled top freshman Yianni Diakomihalisand discussed other ninth graders to watch. The following takes a look at wrestler at the head of the sophomore class – Christian Dietrich of Greene.
Wrestling older guys is something Christian Dietrich has done for a long time. Several years ago, he said he faced the reigning varsity Section 4 runner up at an offseason tournament and won the match.
At the time, he said he was only in fourth grade.
An impressive feat, without a doubt. But even as a fourth grader, Dietrich was an accomplished wrestler, traveling all over the country to challenge himself.
“We’d do 30 tournaments a year and go to all the big ones,” said Charles Dietrich, Christian’s father. “Tulsa Nationals, Ohio Tournament of Champions, all over.”
He beat numerous touted opponents, but what set him apart was his willingness to take on anyone and seek out the best competition.
“Christian has never been afraid to lose,” Charles Dietrich said.
That was immediately obvious when he joined the varsity squad at Greene High as a seventh grader. As the Clyde Cole tournament approached, Dietrich told coach Tim Jenks that he wanted to wrestle Wyoming Seminary’s Eric Morris, a nationally-ranked grappler who is now a freshman at Harvard.
“He lost some weight to make sure he could wrestle Morris,” Jenks said in an interview last year. “He heard about him, knew he was highly ranked nationally and decided he had to wrestle him. That shows you the kind of kid Christian is. That’s the type of kid you want to coach – the kind that wants the challenge.”
“It was the first high school tournament of my career,” Dietrich said. “I thought it was a chance to see where I was at and what I could do to get better.”
He did lose the bout to Morris, but even at a young age, he came out on top against most high school foes. In fact, he dominated his way to his first Section 4 title and set out to make waves at the state tournament.
It’s worth noting that in the past six years, only five seventh graders have made the podium at the state championships. None of the other four (Aaron Paddock in 2011, Tristan Rifanburg in 2010, Corey Rasheed in 2009 or Tim Schaefer in 2008) were above 103 pounds.
None of that mattered to Dietrich, a 152-pounder.
In his first state tournament match, he notched a 17-2 technical fall. In his next bout, he lost to eventual runner up Brian Walsh before capturing a pair of decisions in the wrestlebacks against seniors to ensure All-State status. He concluded his seventh grade campaign with a sixth place medal at 152.
“Being at the state tournament was different,” he said. “But I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose, so I just gave it my all. I think going to the bigger tournaments all my life helped me when I was wrestling kids so much older than me. I was proud of myself afterwards. But then I got hurt.”
Dietrich suffered a knee injury in the fall and was unable to take the mat at all as an eighth grader for the Trojans.
“It was 10 months of rehab; a really long time,” he said. “I actually had four different operations. It was one thing after another.”
During that time he of course didn’t stay idle.
“I mostly just lifted,” he said. “I did a lot of upper body and followed my team.”
Strength training is another thing Dietrich has been doing for quite some time. In fact, there’s a youtube video of Dietrich flipping tires with former Johnson City (and current Wyoming Seminary) wrestler Greg Kleinsmith when both were in elementary school.
“I’ve been strength training since I was about 10,” Dietrich said. “I train at IronWorks gym with Dickie White. We do all kinds of things. I’ve been doing it three times a week for a long time. My last cycle of lifting, I deadlifted 575 pounds for 3 reps, squatted 395 for 3 and benched 285 for 3.”
While he continued to build his strength, he couldn’t wait to get back on the mat as a freshman, looking to pick up where he left off.
“I was anxious to wrestle again,” Dietrich said. “I felt good and ready to go.”
He appeared ready to go from the start, capturing 19 of his first 20 bouts, with just two regular decisions. (His one loss was to two-time state champion Zack Zupan up at 182).
In mid January, Dietrich entered the prestigious Eastern States Classic as the number four seed. He quickly dispatched his first three opponents by fall before earning a 13-4 major over Adis Radoncic and a 3-2 decision over Troy Seymour, the top seed in the bracket. While he dropped the championship contest against Wantagh’s Danny McDevitt, Dietrich showed that he was in the mix for a New York title at 170 pounds.
“Eastern States showed me that I was at the right weight,” Dietrich said. “It showed me how I could do at states since I beat some of the top guys.”
After cruising through the Section 4 tournament, he entered the Times Union Center with a 36-2 mark and the #1 spot in the bracket in Albany.
Dietrich made his way through his first three matches before meeting up with Radoncic for the second time of the season. This time, in the state finals, the outcome was different as Radoncic collected the PSAL’s first-ever NYS crown with a 4-3 decision.
“I was happy to go there as the first seed,” Dietrich said. “It was a little pressure, though, because everyone was out to beat me. I wasn’t proud of my performance in the finals at all. I thought I was horrible that day. I beat him by eight or nine points earlier in the year and I just didn’t wrestle the way I wanted to.”
The state silver medalist didn’t stay frustrated for long, however, as he began to prepare for the next big event.
“I started getting ready for FloNationals,” he said. “I kept wrestling and competing as much as I did during the season. I thought it was a big opportunity for me because Flo is for all age groups and I wanted to face really tough competition.”
He did. In fact, in the first three rounds he beat state placers from Pennsylvania and Virginia before topping Michigan gold medalist Teddy Warren. He then faced California state champion [and current North Carolina State freshman] Peter Santos and took control from the opening whistle.
“I felt like I dominated that whole match,” Dietrich said. “I was up by four points in the third when he injury defaulted.”
After losing in the semis, Dietrich rebounded to edge Travis Linton, a current top 100 senior from Ohio, before forfeiting the bronze medal bout due to an injury.
That fourth place showing at FloNationals, in a bracket full of junior and seniors, showed that Dietrich belonged with the nation’s elite.
And people noticed. Dietrich jumped in the national rankings, currently sitting 11th in the country at 170 pounds and in the top 15 in the Class of 2016 according to both Intermat and Flowrestling.
“I don’t really think about [the rankings],” Dietrich said. “I don’t want it to get to me. I’m proud of it, but I know I can always do better.”
He is reminded of that as he tests himself with college level wrestlers on a frequent basis. He has been a participant at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (FLWC) on Cornell’s campus since it began in 2005 and spends plenty of time in Ithaca.
“I’ve been going to FLWC for years,” he said. “I’ve wrestled with the great coaches there for a long time. Last year, I wrestled a lot with [now Big Red freshmen] Gabe Dean and Taylor Simaz. There are awesome wrestlers there and to see the higher levels and what I should be doing is awesome.”
Dietrich also finds time to spend on some of his other interests like hunting, fishing and riding four wheelers. But wrestling is never too far from his mind.
“He’s been working a lot on wrestling smarter and on his technique,” Charles Dietrich said. “He’s going back to basics and working on his short offense. What happened in the state finals – he wants to make sure it won’t happen again.”
Dietrich said he may wrestle at 170 pounds again or he may go up to 182. In either case, he’s ready to not only get back to the title bout at the Times Union Center, but to get his hand raised at the end.
“We weren’t even sure what would happen his ninth grade year after being out for so long,” Charles Dietrich said. “This year, he’s as a strong as an ox and he’s feeling good. We’re hoping for another great year.”