Two years ago, the scene was hard to watch. Then a sophomore, DuVal High School wrestler Thierno Diallo reached the Maryland state championship match and lost in heartbreaking fashion, 5-3, to LaPlata’s John Papanicolas.
He had to be carried toward the locker room by his coach, Cortez Hayes, as his limbs flailed uncontrollably — still numb from defeat. He scrambled to find the words to describe his loss, his failure to be the best.
Two years later, the only thing Diallo was left scrambling for was his grey hoodie so that he could pose for pictures atop the awards podium. He slipped it on just in time and hopped to the top of the wooden platform a champion.
In his senior season, Diallo captured the state title that previously slipped away from him and capped an undefeated season with a 7-1 victory against Thomas Stone’s Tanner Saluter in the 126-pound championship.
“Last time I was in the finals, I wasn’t as poised,” Diallo said. “I was a lot more jittery. This time, I was cool, calm. I had already been to the finals before and I knew what I had to do. I just had to go out there and do it.”
Hayes saw the maturation develop in Diallo (35-0) throughout the two seasons since he lost in the finals.
“This started two years ago after he placed second in the state,” Hayes said. “We talked about it, and he said it was one of the best things that could have happened to him. His offseason training has been remarkable. He takes his workout very seriously and when guys come into the wrestling room and don’t take it serious, he politely escorts them out. He’s been on a mission. Since Day 1, he said ‘Coach, this is my year to win a state championship.’”
Instead of screaming or jumping around or somersaulting upon winning, Diallo simply stepped to the center circle and allowed the referee to raise his hand. It was about as subdued a celebration as any wrestler had on the night inside the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House.
“The celebration at the end, coach told me to keep it simple,” Diallo said. “Coach told me not to go over the top. Not being cocky or anything, but we both expected to be in the finals and win the state title. That was the goal from start to finish. Get your state title. I just took it one match at a time. I didn’t even think of the ending result.”
Diallo was dominant throughout the tournament. The only wrestler from Prince George’s County to reach the finals, he was a four-time county champion and became the first wrestler from DuVal to win a state title since Mike Free in 1990. He beat his first two opponents, 16-0 via technical fall before advancing to the finals with a 6-0 win against North Point’s Malachi Edmond. Prior to his finals match, he said he thought about all the work he had put into reaching that moment. And that, he said, helped him calm his nerves before his match against Saluter.
“I put the work in perspective before the match. That way, when I got out there, there were no mistakes or getting caught. I’ve already done this, I’ve already done that to prepare myself for this one moment. I told myself, ‘I’m going to make it worth it.’ That’s just how I looked at it,” Diallo said.
The mild-mannered senior plans to wrestle for Binghamton University next season and will carry with him a GPA of 3.6 and the tag of being a two-time All-American. He next plans to wrestle at high school nationals before preparing for his freshman year of college.
Hayes, meanwhile, said that DuVal will be in good hands thanks to the work Diallo has put in during his four standout seasons at the Lanham school.
“He has set the tone for the guys who are coming back next year,” Hayes said. “We have eight returning. They see exactly what we are speaking about and he’s set the standard so those eight will duplicate what they’ve been seeing.”