The American Family Insurance ALL-USA Wrestling Team for the 2016-17 season was selected based on performance and level of competition.
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Gable Steveson, Apple Valley (Minn.)
Name: Craig Gross
School: Hilton Central (Hilton, N.Y.)
When Yianni Diakomihalis underwent surgery on his right elbow in mid-December, his Hilton Central teammates expected the Cadets star — perhaps the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the country — to be back in time for the postseason.
“It definitely makes a difference when he’s not in the lineup,” Hilton senior co-captain Austin Hertel told Gannett partner Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “We are one man down, so everyone has to step up.”
A few weeks after his surgery, doctors told Diakomihalis that he needed more surgery — this time on his left elbow. A career that featured four state titles and a state record 210 consecutive wins was over.
But that didn’t stop the Cadets. Despite that midseason loss, Hilton Central never wavered. The Cadets remained focused and in late February they won their fourth consecutive New York Division 1 state title. The team was ranked No. 1 in the state for the entire season.
“I had some great kids on the team that pulled together and stepped up,” said Hilton Central coach Craig Gross. “They knew we still had a strong team and continued to work hard and improve every day.”
Leading the charge was Gross, who has overseen a juggernaut in his six years at the helm for Hilton Central. His ability to get the most out of his team this season earns him the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Coach of the Year.
Even without Diakomihalis, a two-time world champion, the Cadets still were a deep and talented team. Six wrestlers qualified for the state meet, and two — ALL-USA First Team selection Louie DePrez at 182 pounds and freshman Greg Diakomihalis at 113 — won state titles. Hertel finished second at 126 pounds while sophomore Sammy DePrez reached the quarterfinals at 170 pounds. Ryan Burgos (99) and Mike Spallina (195) also wrestled at the state meet.
With Yianni Diakomihalis and the rest of the team watching intently, Louie DePrez’s clinched the title for the Cadets with a major decision in the 182 state final. That gave Hilton 74 points, outdistancing Monroe-Woodbury (Central Valley, N.Y.) with 69.5.
“Yianni still came to practice every day and helped out,” Gross said. “My three other senior captains (DePrez, Hertel and Spallina) did a nice job as leaders in and out of the practice room.”
LOOKBACK: 2016-17 ALL-USA Preseason Team
ONE YEAR AGO: 2015-16 ALL-USA Wrestling Team