Urbana High School wrestling coach Justin Krop recognized the name immediately, when it popped up in his Facebook messages. West Virginia native Ryan Diehl had been one of the most heavily recruited student-athletes out of high school and, over the last four years at the University of Maryland, had become one of the country’s top Division I wrestlers.
“He wrestled against my brothers growing up, so when he moved to this area he reached out to me on Facebook,” Krop said. “I knew him as this stud wrestler and thought maybe he was going to run some camps or had some individual workouts that he was doing to make money on the side. But when he asked if I had room on my coaching staff, my jaw dropped.”
Diehl, who was a top 10 finisher at the Big Ten Championships and an NCAA qualifier in 2017-18, has been a tremendous addition to the team, Krop said, bringing not only a wealth of knowledge about the sport but affirmation that greatness can be achieved through conditioning, toughness and sound fundamentals.
“I’ve wrestled my whole life and my coaches have been a big part of my life, so I wanted to be able to give back,” Diehl said. “I want to be able to impact someone’s life (through wrestling) like my coaches did for me.”
The opportunity to train with and wrestle against an athlete of Diehl’s caliber is not something the Hawks take lightly. They know there is much to be gleaned from his experience and it’s made for quite productive practices.
“He wrestles with us a lot, which is great,” said sophomore Anson Gentry, who is enjoying a breakout season. “He pushes us a lot, and he shows us new moves that we can bring to our level.”
The addition of Diehl to the coaching staff also allows for flexibility during practice, Krop said. With Diehl working out the more experienced, higher echelon wrestlers, Krop can focus on strengthening the fundamentals of some of Urbana’s newer student-athletes. And, though Krop is also a former Division I wrestler (Liberty University), as the head coach, he needs to maintain a more authoritative presence, he said. Just a year out of college, Diehl brings an element of friendship. He’s been someone the Hawks can confide in, and someone they can talk to about things he’s experienced more recently—such as the college recruitment process.
“We usually start practice around 3:30, and he’ll come in to (the training room) at 2:30 and hang out with us until practice,” said senior co-captain Ben Steinhiemer. “He’s basically one of the guys.”
Two-time state dual meet champion Urbana (6-3 record as of Jan. 27) hopes all the work put in will pay dividends come championship season, which kicks off with the Frederick County tournament in mid-February. The Hawks are seeking their first state title since 2018, second overall.
In addition to top postseason contenders Austin Rohn, who won county and regional titles a year ago before finishing fifth at states, and Colin Acton, a returning state championship qualifier who followed up his first county championship last year with a runner-up finish at regionals, Gentry has surfaced as someone to watch down the stretch. The 170-pounder, in only his second year of wrestling, started off the season under the radar. But top four finishes at the prestigious Hub Cup tournament and the Damascus Holiday tournament have put him on the map.
“We had high expectations for him, but he’s broken into the state rankings at a faster rate than most,” Krop said. “He’s willing to be uncomfortable to get better. He replied that he can close the gap (between him and more experienced wrestlers) through conditioning and physicality and that’s been his biggest asset.”
Added Diehl: “It’s awesome to see (the guys) progress. It’s fun to watch them grow. I remember my coaches talking about how they got to see me grow, and now I get to be a part of that from a different perspective, and it’s awesome to watch.”
In the spirit of leadership, Steinheimer has wrestled up a weight class this winter, setting an example to his younger teammates, Krop said, that sometimes being the best teammate might mean embracing a role that is not necessarily the most ideal.
Still, Steinheimer has remained competitive at 138 pounds and said he’s driven to pick up as many points as he can for the Hawks.
“Any time you can get a Division I wrestler in your (weight) room, it’s a huge positive,” Krop said. “The kids get to work out with him every day, and he (presents) them (with) a higher level of wrestling. He’s been a huge addition to our team.”