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What coaches and wrestlers said at 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships Media Day

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TULSA — One day away.

Coaches and contending athletes in the 2023 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships spoke to reporters on Wednesday afternoon in Tulsa’s BOK Center ahead of the tournament which begins Thursday.

Here what some of the participants said.

Daton Fix, OSU 133-pounder

On seeking his first national championship after finishing runner-up three times

"Yeah, I think it is my year. Every year I come here, I think it's my year. Every year I've been here I thought I was the best guy in the weight. And I still think that. I've lost a couple of close matches. I think that if we (indiscernible) again, I easily could easily have done things different and won. But that's in the past and I'm just focussed on my performance every time I step out there. The results are going to happen. But I'm just worried about my performance and going out there and getting the job done."

Spencer Lee, Iowa 125-pounder

On advice he would give to young kids wanting to compete for an NCAA championship some day.

"If I had some advice to give the young kids it would be keep enjoying and having fun, keep that passion. Like I said, we've all been wrestling with each other for a long time. I've competed against Austin. I've competed against all these guys my entire life -- on PA teams versus their representative state. So just keep having fun with it, enjoy the process. And if you keep that passion high, eventually maybe you'll be up on this stage one day." 

Austin O’Connor, North Carolina 157-pounder

On if people forgot about him after he didn’t win a national championship in 2022 despite winning it in 2021.

"I mean, I've been here the whole time. This is my sixth year down here. I'm ready to go. Coming into the tournament 16-0, but just going to take one match at a time. And hopefully we see another finals appearance on Saturday."

Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State 133-pounder

On what his relationship is like with OSU’s Daton Fix after RBY beat him in the two most recent finals.

"I don't have an answer for that. I haven't really talked to him. But I've always watched him wrestle. Not a really good answer for that. Haven't really got to know him. But appreciate him. He makes me a better person."

Mason Parris, Michigan heavyweight

On contending for a title without former Minnesota Gable Steveson (moved on to WWE

"This is my first year where I'm coming in as the No. 1 seed. This year, he's not here, I'm going to wrestle whoever is in front of me. I'm taking out everyone who comes across me. So I'm coming into this tournament with a lot of confidence, feeling really good. Body's feeling good. Mind's feeling good. Really excited, and whoever is in front of me is who I'm going to go out and compete against." 

Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell 149-pounder

On when becoming a four-time national champion became a realistic goal.

"When you're a little kid you're, like, I'm going to win four of this and eight world champions. But as I've gotten older, I've kind of cared less about it. Obviously, it's a really big deal for me and the program to win four. But I'm winning one this weekend. And if I don't win this weekend it's not like I lose the other three. For me I'm just showing up to win a national title this weekend. The fact that it's my fourth will be an afterthought to me. As much as it is a cool accomplishment I just haven't thought about it that way really at all."

Mike Grey, Cornell head coach

On the evolution of college wrestling and level of talent

"The talent is unreal. Like the talent that we're seeing, especially with such an emphasis on the age-level World Championships, when I was coming through or even my brother, when he was coming through, there wasn't these age-group tournaments. Now there are. So you have RTCs, but also some really, really great talent coming in early. But the seeding, I think that they both hit it on the head as well. It's never going to be perfect. But I'll tell you what, in my day, only having 12 seeds and then you could draw 13 right off the rip, that's real challenging. I think the seeding all the way to 33, they're doing a good job. And there might be some folks that don't love it. But I think overall the coaches are somewhat pleased with what we've got going on right now."

John Smith, OSU head coach

On what keeps him motivated as the longest-tenured coach in the tournament

"I just enjoy the sport, and I enjoy coaching. I think your experiences are what motivate you, whether they're good or bad. For me, been two of probably the most challenging years I've had in the last couple of years. You'd rather have those early in your career than towards the end of your career. But it's the way it fell. And things we had to pick up and keep moving. I don't think you have a plan to coach this long. I think it just happens. I've enjoyed Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State's been good to me. Been good to my family. And I think for a lot of reasons you stay with it. But that's definitely one is that you have support from your institution, your athletic department, your athletic director. And it makes a big difference in how long you want to coach."

Brian Smith, Missouri head coach

On the familiarity of the BOK Center after coaching Missouri to a Big 12 title a few weeks ago

"I got to the hotel last night and I felt like, damn, I just woke up there yesterday. It was the same hotel. And knowing the walk, being familiar with the whole area just makes it really comfortable for athletes. I think we all feel that way coming from the Big 12. We know the city. It's an awesome place to have the event. We know the hallways underneath, for our athletes it's so small, but those little things can make a difference, that they just feel comfortable, even though it's a tough anxiety-filled event that's a good thing. We're happy to be here in Tulsa. I know that."

Chris Pendleton, Oregon State head coach

On how wrestling at Oklahoma State and learning from John Smith impacted coaching philosophies and the way he runs a program

"For me, I think the first thing you learn when you walk in the doors at Oklahoma State is it's told to you very clearly that no one's bigger than the program. And it has kind of shaped the philosophy of our culture at Oregon State, that it's not about one person -- it's not about me, it's not about (coach Nate) Engel or Trey Munoz. It's about the collective pulling together the right way. And I'm really grateful that I was a Cowboy."

Pat Popolizio, North Carolina State head coach

On how wrestling at Oklahoma State and learning from John Smith impacted coaching philosophies and the way he runs a program

"First of all, it was an honor to wrestle for Coach Smith at Oklahoma State. Just the mentality that he instilled in his athletes, obviously you can see it when they're out there competing to this day. But the mentorship that he's had as far as coaching aspect is a lot different than what it would be as an athlete. But I think when you can take what Oklahoma State's done and you take your philosophy with you as a coach and you can implement that kind of same mentality and get that instilled in your athletes, you're going to have success. And I think you talked about it earlier. There's a lot of guys in the Oklahoma State wrestling tree that are out there now. And they're starting to bring tradition and a culture of wrestling that traditionally at certain schools wasn't there. And we get a little bit of buy-in and just a little bit of that taste what it was like out in Stillwater. It gets contagious. And that's something we've been able to bring to Raleigh and have a little success with it."

Mark Manning, Nebraska head coach

On whether anyone can beat Penn State

"I think we -- probably I can speak for Pat and Chris -- it's all about just focusing on your team. Absolutely. You never know. But, yeah, they have some big guns and obviously heavy favorites at some weight classes. They're going to score a lot of points. But you just never know. You never know who is going to get hurt. You never know if someone is going to get upset. We're all human. And there's no one superman out there. But they're probably the odds-on favorite, right? But you never know. It's going to happen some day. And they're probably not going to win 20 in a row or something, right? Alabama doesn't win all the time. Georgia doesn't win all -- you know, there's going to be a streak end sometime. Maybe this year. Maybe not. I don't know. But absolutely possible."