Sean Mondello didn’t finish where he wanted to in his final state wrestling tournament, and he knew that he wasn’t finished with wrestling after that.
He was already committed to Miami’s diving team, but he couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he needed to wrestle in college even as he spent five days a week practicing with the RedHawks.
Wrestling has had a special place in Mondello’s life ever since he began when he was seven years old.
“I’ve loved (wrestling) ever since I started,” Mondello said. “I loved diving, too, but I believed that wrestling was my true calling.”
While Mondello was already an experienced wrestler as he approached his first year at Talawanda High School, he suffered a setback to his career when he fractured part of his vertebrae during a football game in the eighth grade.
He still remembers when his body locked up as he tried to jog off the field and lost all movement in his body for nearly 20 minutes.
“It was probably the craziest thing I ever had to go through,” Mondello said.
He missed the entire wrestling season that year. That caused Mondello to feel underprepared when he participated in wrestling as a freshman.
While his performance wasn’t bad that season, he felt that missing an entire year of training set him back.
“It was like I quit,” Mondello said.
Mondello had the challenge of balancing two winter sports in high school. Every day during the season, he had to go straight to wrestling practice for two hours and then immediately go to diving practice after. Obviously, he wasn’t home a whole lot during the winter.
Balancing two sports wasn’t the biggest challenge, either.
“School was mostly the hardest part,” Mondello said. “Just getting all of my stuff done.”
Overlapping schedules is inevitable when one is playing two sports in the same season. When it came to choosing one sport over the other, Mondello’s priority toward wrestling was clear.
He missed his senior night for diving and instead participated in a wrestling tournament. Mondello almost missed his diving conference meet because a wrestling tournament had ended soon before the diving competition began.
That was the moment he truly showed his commitment to the sport. Even though he had already qualified for the diving championship, he scratched his position and instead participated in another qualifier. He ended up placing in the state wrestling tournament.
His swim coach wasn’t happy with him, but Mondello felt the decision was worth it.
“I had to choose wrestling there,” Mondello said.
Mondello signed his letter of intent to dive at Miami in October 2018. There were a lot of benefits of staying so close to home for him, given that he lived only five minutes away from Miami’s campus.
His family could support him easier. He was familiar with every corner of the campus. He also had a close connection to the diving coach, KongRong Li.
Despite all of that, something wasn’t sitting right with Mondello.
By May 2018, he didn’t want to dive anymore. His feelings weren’t a secret, either. His family knew how much he would miss wrestling if he gave up on it, and his high school diving coach knew of his passion for wrestling as well. He hoped that Miami’s athletic department would be accepting of his decision and give him a full release.
There was also the change in schools. Mondello knew of the benefits of attending college close to home, but he also wanted to experience something other than Oxford for the next four years. In Athens, he could make new friends.
Miami gave Mondello a full release, meaning that he could participate in the 2019 season at Ohio.
Mondello was much happier wrestling despite the challenges that came with it.
“I feel like (wrestling) is so much harder than anything else that I’ve ever done,” Mondello said. “That’s another reason why I love it. It’s a grind every time.”
After every practice or match, Mondello feels great about making it through another tough daily challenge. He also feels that it’s much easier to move on from mistakes in wrestling compared to diving, in which he often got frustrated with how he performed.
Transferring is never easy for an athlete, but Mondello is confident that he made the right decision in the end.
“I feel like a completely different wrestler,” Mondello said.