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March 14, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Lehigh's Darian Cruz, Wyoming's Bryce Meredith, Penn State's Zain Retherford and hopefully by Isaiah Martinez from Illinois and Kyle Snyder from Ohio State.
Q. Kyle, you guys are defending Big Ten champs, but Penn State is defending national champ. Who do you feel is the favorite for the team side based on those two things?
KYLE SNYDER: Both teams are really good. Penn State won it last year and wrestled really well. Five champions and all of them are returning. So obviously they have the firepower to compete at a really high level.
But I would say that we are the favorite. I think just looking at the seeds, looking at our performance from last week, if everyone competes at the best of their ability, the best that they can, then I think it's our tournament to win, our tournament to lose, I mean. So, yep.
Q. Kyle, a lot of people think of you as super human considering what you've done on the mat, but you showed you're human when you actually lost to Coon in the regular season. Can you talk about what that did to you as a human personally? Did it put any doubt? What did you do to adjust anything after that match before the Big Ten?
KYLE SNYDER: Yeah, there was no doubt that I could make the adjustments. I've always been real confident in myself, and I've lost a lot worse than that growing up and in practice and different situations. So I always feel like I can make adjustments. And I just knew against Adam, I needed to be a little bit more efficient in the way that I wrestled him.
Usually I don't have a game plan. I just try to move forward and be really offensive and try to score a lot of points. And then if my opponent can handle that, they can handle it. But a lot of times I win wrestling positions and win the match.
But against Coon, he's so big that I have to be a little more efficient with my hand fighting, finish my attacks better, pick and choose a little bit. So with that adjustment, I feel really good. I felt good about the second match and I feel even better about the third match if we end up competing against each other. I think that I'll be able to score more than I did and it won't go to overtime. I think I can end it before then.
Q. Was he the biggest guy you've ever wrestled?
KYLE SNYDER: Yeah, I think Adam is the biggest guy I've ever wrestled.
Q. I'd like the seniors to talk about their thoughts heading into their final NCAA Tournament and kind of what the journey's been like taking you to this point where three more days and you're not a college wrestler anymore.
DARIAN CRUZ: It's crazy to think about that, our college career is going to be done in three days. It's something that it's been inevitable to think about since the beginning of the season. But it goes fast.
So I guess -- I'm speaking of me personally I kind of saved all the emotion for after the season -- so I'm sure I'll be very emotional after these next three days. But as of right now I'm pretty excited to compete. And it's crazy seeing all these guys, wrestling, I've (indiscernible) most of these guys since I was little in one way or another. And for us to be up here doing our thing it's pretty cool.
And the journey has been exciting, and I'm sure we all thought about leaving a certain impact on the sport and on our teams. And it's crazy that we're kind of done doing that specifically for our team. And I'm sure we're all going to step up and continue to do what we love and that's wrestling.
All in all I think it's kind of nuts thinking that three more days of competing at your university, especially when it's something you've been dreaming about since you were little.
BRYCE MEREDITH: It's kind of crazy because my freshman year I was actually sitting at home watching the NCAA Tournament, watching all these guys either winning national titles or pretty close to it. Knowing that I've came this far and now I'm sitting up here talking with Kyle Snyder, one of the gold medalists, maybe pound for pound the best in the world; Zain Retherford, who's a world team member in college; Darian Cruz, who's a defending national champ.
It's pretty humbling to know I can be up here and kind of speak with these guys at a press conference like this, because the last two years I've been a 14 seed and a 10 seed. So coming in No. 1 is a little is a little different for me. I'm excited for it though. Obviously it puts you in a little bit better bracket; if there's a good place at the NCAA Tournament, we all know it's madness here. And that's why we love this sport and that's why we love this tournament so much.
And just looking back from the first year that I was here I remember going back to next year being, like, man, when do I get to go to the NCAA Tournament again. I was so excited for it because it's really the coolest wrestling tournament I've ever got to wrestle in. So being back here, being a senior, trying to go out on top for the first time, it's cool stuff and I'm trying to leave my lasting impact on the sport, like Darian said, because that's all we can do.
ZAIN RETHERFORD: I think these guys said it really well. I'm not really focused on -- when it's over it's going to be over and it's going to come Saturday night. It's going to -- it's like inevitable; it's going to be here, our season is going to be over. But until then I'm kind of just focused on scoring as many points as I can and just enjoying this moment, each moment as it comes. It's an opportunity and it's what we dream for all year long, so it will be fun.
KYLE SNYDER: Yeah, I think that I've had a great time at Ohio State. I've accomplished a lot of things, not just in wrestling but just feel like I've become a stronger man, stronger in my faith, mentally stronger. So I'm happy with all of that. I'm happy with the way that my career went.
And I'm excited, I'm excited for the future. I love freestyle wrestling. So I'm going to be competing for a really long time, hopefully, after this.
So this is just another great tournament to wrestle in and compete in front of. It's a unique tournament because you get to compete in front of so many people and the team aspect of it is really cool. But I got a lot of wrestling left. So I'm excited for that.
Q. Darian or Bryce, I want to talk about your guys' style. You have a unique style, right, Darian? You got custom shoes. Bryce, you have custom leg sleeves. Is that kind of important for you to look good, feel good, wrestle good type thing? And how do you think that impacts you mentally coming into a tournament like this?
BRYCE MEREDITH: Yeah, so all that stuff is a lot of fun and it's all building a brand. Kyle Snyder does it by winning Olympic gold medals. I have to do it by dying my hair and putting a leg sleeve on. It's all just where you can find your, like, road to like building a brand and trying to do something a little bit different, because, like we said, we're trying to leave an impact in four years. We're not professional athletes in these and get to go for 10 years.
We'll do freestyle stuff later. But right now it's only a three-, four-year window. You have to try to leave your impact. And I want people to ultimately remember me. That's the only way you become immortalized in the sport of wrestling if people can remember who Bryce Meredith was and his style, whatever it is. Hopefully it's more for the man I am, but if the leg sleeve and the hair and the custom shoes and all that help it out, then that's pretty cool.
DARIAN CRUZ: Off that, I think the first time I kind of really realized that I can be impactful in that aspect was after last year winning nationals and stuff like that. I was at a camp and some little kid commented on the shoes I was wearing in the tournament.
They weren't that cool. They were pretty plain. The kid even called them the uglies. They're like these adidas shoes, a plain flap, the color was gold on the bottom. He was, like, man, the shoes weren't that cool but everyone's wearing them now.
I'm, like, all right, that's why this year I decided to do something to my shoe, custom them up. Like you said, look good, feel good, wrestle good. It's all part of the game. Like Bryce was saying, leaving your impact and branding yourself. And I think it's cool to see other athletes being unique in their own way. So I agree with look good, feel good, wrestle good.
Q. Bryce, you grew up in Wyoming. You returned to Wyoming after being at NC State. What are your earliest memories of this sport while you're growing up and the importance of what you could do for that state for college wrestling?
BRYCE MEREDITH: Coming from Wyoming, not a lot of people make it out of there. Of course, we've got Rulon Gardner, who ended up being an Olympic gold medalist. But outside of that you don't hear much about Wyoming. A lot of people joke about it not being a real state, stuff like that.
So coming out of Wyoming, I think it just made me more tough because I had to travel a lot more. I had to really reach out to the best kids in the country, trying to get any type of partner, any type of coaching and all that kind of stuff. And ultimately I think it just made me a mentally tougher man in the long run. And when I left it, I didn't realize how special that place really was.
And we don't have a professional team where -- we only have only one four-year university in the whole state of Wyoming. We're like the pinnacle of the state. And when you are doing well in your sport there, you're kind of like a superstar. And it's a lot of fun to be that get the recognition that maybe you don't deserve, but we get it and it's fun.
And ultimately it was the greatest thing I could have done was come back to it because it put me in a place of happiness and brought me around my family and my friends. And I wasn't worrying about other things then. I was just worrying about enjoying life and becoming a better wrestler.
And without that, I was talking with one of my teammates yesterday in the car actually, I have no idea where I'd be in my career if I didn't leave. So luckily God pushed me back home and it's been history ever since.
Q. Darian, you come in the undefeated defending national champion. Someone was talking about (indiscernible). Is that something that serves as extra motivation in the lead-up to the tournament?
DARIAN CRUZ: Honestly, I guess it's kind of been the buzz all year. And I'm cool with that. It's crazy seeing how good the sport of wrestling is getting in the sense that guys are becoming better younger. They're becoming better earlier.
So I think it's good for them getting all that buzz. And me personally, I don't see it as extra motivation. It's motivation in itself to try to chase another title or try to chase at least something new in the sense that, chase this year's title as opposed to last year.
So I wouldn't consider it extra motivation, just something else I've got to do. Everyone in this tournament has got to beat the guy on the other side of the line no matter what you're seeded. So every seed, every spot in the bracket is a tough draw. So I wouldn't consider it being extra motivation, just motivation itself.
Q. Bryce, if two guys up there don't really have the head of hair that you do, but if you had any tips about perfectly manicured eyebrows and hair that you could give to Darian, what would you do?
BRYCE MEREDITH: I would just say the good Lord blessed me with some nice hair and some wild eyebrows that I have to take care of a little more than I'd like to. So, Darian, we've got to stay on our (indiscernible) and stay pretty with the eyebrows and the hair. This is just natural.
DARIAN CRUZ: I can actually do my hair.
Q. Zain and Kyle, the teams, I want to ask about, have been battling out all year. The dual meet was great. The Big Tens was great. How is the atmosphere and mood with the teams coming in here? Both fan bases are very close to Cleveland. I think everybody is expecting a lot of fun with that. Could you speak about how the teams are preparing for what's coming next?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: I don't think it's any different. I think our guys are relaxed and ready to compete. So I think it will be a fun tournament. But it's no different than the way we've competed all year long. So kind of keeping that in the back of our minds.
It's just another opportunity that we're all kind of grateful for and it will all, the way we compete, if we compete hard, it will the tournament will take care of itself. So just looking forward to kind of how it plays out.
KYLE SNYDER: We're all feeling good at Ohio State. We have more tickets. I mean we've got more tickets sold through the NCAA to Buckeye fans and donors and family than we've ever had. I feel like this is going to be a predominantly Buckeye-favored crowd which will go to favor us.
I think these two teams, Ohio State and Penn State, this is the greatest team race there ever has been in the history of the NCAA. I truly believe that. I thought it was going to be that way in the season, and it's played out that way. So that's going to make it really exciting and we all know that it's such a great opportunity at Ohio State.
But similar to what Zain said, all you can do is control your effort and your willingness to fight, be offensive and then the other things take care of themselves.
But we definitely know we're facing a great team in Penn State, and we need to be at the very highest of our level to compete with them and win this title, which is definitely our plan.
Q. Kyle, going off the last question, what are your thoughts on you and the team wrestling here in Cleveland? And do you think you guys can, like you said, so many tickets have been sold to Buckeye fans, do you think that you guys can kind of use the crowd to help you in this tournament?
KYLE SNYDER: Oh, yeah. We're going to use the crowd. I'm definitely going to use the crowd. I'm going to pump them up as soon as I get on the mat. And the other guys will too.
Our 25 -- Nate, Micah, Bo, Kollin -- they're all from Ohio. Luke is from PA. Te'Shan is from PA. We're all around this area. So I think it's going to be -- anytime you get to compete in front of a crowd that will uplift you while you're on the mat it's always a little bit of extra inspiration to compete at a high level.
And everybody on our team is already really self-motivated and they wrestle because they love it, and they want to score a lot of points and do the things they do really well while they're competing. But it's really cool when you have a big crowd around you cheering you on. And we're very thankful for that for sure. We hope to see a lot of scarlet and gray.
Q. Kyle, you were part of the only team that beat Penn State in the last seven years and you're also part of the first United States team, both you and Zain are part of the it, a United States team to win a world title. Can you kind of compare and contrast what you have taken from those that you shared with your teammates to try to push forward and try to win again this year?
KYLE SNYDER: I haven't shared much from the Team U.S.A. experience. It's more everybody, I feel like everybody at Ohio State, the guys that are wrestling this weekend are motivated by themselves. I don't really need to say much to them. And the coaches do a great job of saying the things that really need to be said before we compete.
So it's been an amazing, I've had an amazing career so far being able to compete on teams that can compete, that can wrestle at such a great level, whether it's high school, collegiately or internationally. I've been blessed.
Q. Zain, could you talk a little bit about how much a better wrestler you think you've become since this time last year? And also what the world championship experience did for you as an athlete, as a person?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: Yeah, I think I've gotten a lot better -- I've been working on little things on my feet, being more patient. I think that's one thing I really have been working on since last season. I think I forced some shots or some offensive things last year that -- just learning to be more patient with my offense. So that's been good.
And adding everything on top, not being afraid to try new things when I'm out there, a foot sweep, one of the matches this year. So having fun with it, I think that's one thing that I really did this season.
And learning from the world championships, definitely wasn't happy with my performance out there. So a lot of things to take away from that. Just one thing, I was pretty hard on myself for a little while after that, a few weeks. And I think I just realized win or lose not putting too much emphasis on the result, putting more emphasis on how much better is my wrestling actually getting is one thing that I focused on.
After that, win or lose, that's kind of the end goal. It's never really, yeah, we want to win stuff, but are you having fun with it? Are you actually getting better? Are you adding more offense? And that's kind of what I focused on this season.
Q. Kyle, about a month ago you guys had a chance to train with Taha Akgul at the RTC. How much is having a guy of that caliber of a guy help you against a guy like Adam?
KYLE SNYDER: It helped a lot. Taha is incredible. He's so strong, so big, positioning is great. I think he's probably the best guy that I've ever wrestled against since I've been wrestling.
And he had a similar build to Adam. They don't really wrestle the same at all. Taha shoots a lot and his leg was actually, I would say, his leg was probably a little lighter than Adam's, which was surprising to me.
But I guess the size was probably the best part, because he weighs like 275. Adam probably weighs, I don't know, 285, 290, something. And so that was good for me to be able to wrestle someone that size, because the heaviest guy in the room other than that is probably like 235. So normally I don't compete against guys that big.
But also, I mean, in the NCAA, not everyone is Adam's size, and usually I can just go out there and take people down a whole bunch of times and not have to worry about being strategic. But with Taha it was good, it was good to feel that size getting ready for this tournament.
Q. Darian, you guys had a pretty good team season this year with Lehigh. You got the monkey off your back, and you bring all 10 wrestlers here to Cleveland. Talk about the atmosphere and the mood, being a senior, going through all those seasons at the AWAs, and now coming here, I think, only two teams have their full lineups and you guys get to be one of those teams.
DARIAN CRUZ: Absolutely. I think it's pretty cool being a senior and getting stuff done as a team, more specifically. Honestly, that's where I get a lot of my motivation, my will and a lot of like my excitement is seeing how good the team can do. And it's crazy just because wrestling is such an individual sport. But I love, I get fired up seeing these guys excel and grow as wrestlers. For us to bring a full lineup out here it's pretty sweet.
It helps our chances of bringing home a trophy. And I'm excited for all ten guys. Me being the only senior on the team and just a couple of freshmen in our lineup, I think it's awesome for them to get out here and experience this.
I remember my freshman year, I remember getting caught up in the lights, and I think Madison Square Garden, that was one place where I really got caught up in the lights.
And I like having these guys out here as many times as they can to kind of experience it. And then there shouldn't be an excuse why you don't bring home an All-American.
So I want these guys to get their feet wet and enjoy the moment, but I want these guys to really push themselves to wrestle to the best of their ability. And the ten guys that we brought here, I've seen them wrestle great matches up in the practice room or even compete out like at scuffle and dual meets.
I know what they're capable of. It's a harder playing field out here, at least that's what they think. Coming from me personally, I think it's the best time to have fun and go out and do what you know how to do. And that's something I really try to push for these guys.
So for us having the full lineup. It's awesome for Lehigh. Shows a lot of hope for Lehigh. And, like I said, we're young, so I'm excited to see this team continue to grow.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports