STEPHENS CITY -- Timmy Dieter doesn’t remember exactly what it was about wrestling that hooked him around the age of 5. He only recalls that during his first two years in the sport, one that has become something of a family tradition, nothing that happened on the mat could stop him from smiling.
“I could be on my back getting pinned and I’d be happy as I could possibly be, no matter what,” Dieter said recently while discussing his introduction to wrestling.
Years later, the Sherando senior probably wasn’t smiling when he suddenly found himself on his back during the Virginia High School League Class 4 state semifinals last month at Robinson High School. Not with a possible pin threatening to erase his 10-point lead over Eastern View’s Austin Kolikas in the closing seconds of their 132-pound bout and end his last shot at a state championship.
But it was the wake-up call Dieter would later say he needed to put a storybook ending on a fantastic high school career.
Dieter survived the semifinal round to set up a chance for gold, and his third-period pin of Midlothian’s John Bolstad in the state finals made him a state champion for the first time in his career.
Dieter, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Wrestler of the Year, knew from the start that the 2018-19 season was his time to contend for the state title that had eluded him in his first two trips to the state tournament. So too did Sherando first-year head coach and former longtime Warriors assistant coach Brian Kibler. Dieter made both look like smart men.
“Right off the bat I felt the best I ever have felt this year compared to every other year,” Dieter said. “I felt like my offense was the best. I felt like my top game was the best out of all the four years. I felt like my bottom game was getting a lot better. I just felt like everything was almost kind of falling into place.”
Dieter made sure the cards were stacked in his favor during his senior year by stepping up his offseason work. Most notably, he said, he started training at a club in Harrisonburg called Wrestling Shape operated by Jeremy Whitmore, a physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist and head coach of the Shenandoah Valley Wrestling Club.
Working with Whitmore made Dieter faster and stronger, he said, and he added that Whitmore helped “clean up my technique.”
Dieter finished his senior season with a record of 43-2 and 33 pins, and he won Class 4 Northwestern District and Region 4C tournament titles in the weeks leading up to his state championship. His only two losses came at the Trojan Wars tournament in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in late December.
While Kibler said Dieter’s style of wrestling didn’t change much from seasons past, he added that the senior was clearly more the aggressor this winter. Dieter’s 108 takedowns this past season are the third-most in a single season in Sherando history.
“A lot of times he was getting on people’s legs as opposed to when he was younger people were getting him and he was scoring more defensively,” Kibler said. “So I’d say that probably from freshman year to now his biggest development is he started getting on legs and he started to see more takedowns as a result of that. And that’s probably what was the determining factor. When you get more takedowns, typically you win more matches.”
Dieter will leave Sherando’s wrestling program ranked among the top three in many statistical categories. His 183 career wins are the third-most in Warrior history. His 110 career pins trail only former teammate and mentor John Borst, a three-time state champ who is now wrestling at Virginia Tech. Dieter’s 579 team points earned in dual matches in his career also rank third.
And yet Dieter had never won a high school postseason tournament prior to winning the Northwestern District title this season. His unbeaten playoff run in 2019 affirmed Dieter’s status as one of the Sherando greats.
“He’s in some pretty daggone good company there. You’ve got the Nick Bakoses of the world, the John Borsts of the world, all the good ones that have come before, and he’s right there with them,” Kibler said. “Yeah, as you’re doing the stats and looking, I’m not a huge stat guy other than wins and losses and things like that, but yeah, you kind of get a little bit of validation what kind of wrestler he actually was.”
Joe Jessen is a name that doesn’t appear in Sherando’s record book but he was as big a motivating factor as any for Dieter. Jessen, Dieter’s older brother, won two state titles at Millbrook in 2011 and 2012.
Dieter got to see Jessen win those two championships in Salem and said his older brother was a fixture in his own development as a wrestler.
“The most memorable thing is my brother, my freshman and sophomore year, he really came in here almost every day to help me. … He helped me every day to get better,” Dieter said. “Joey definitely had a big impact on my life. Not just wrestling. He’s helped me with life, schoolwork, everything.”
Another older brother, P.K. Jessen, does appear in Sherando’s record book, and Dieter’s 33 pins this season edged P.K. by one fall. P.K. Jessen, who wrestled just one full season for Sherando as a senior in 2014 after transferring from Millbrook, also came up just short of a state championship in his final high school season, something Dieter said stuck in the back of his mind throughout his own senior season.
“It really motivated me because me and my brothers are really, really competitive with each other,” Dieter said of being part of a wrestling family, one that’s experienced a ton of success, no less. “We’re always trying to one-up each other and I really wanted to one-up at least one of them.”
As for his status as one of the best grapplers to take the mat for Sherando, Dieter said he’s not bothered about having his name plastered all over the school’s record book.
“I just try to be the best person that I can be, the best wrestler I can be,” said Dieter, who plans to wrestle in college but has yet to decide where he’ll attend school next fall. “As long as I’m improving, I’m happy.”