DePalma pins to take fifth; Miller defaults to sixth at NCAA Championships

Dan Armelli

Kent State wrestler Mike DePalma’s goal coming into his third NCAA Championships was to get to the top of the podium.

Though the fifth-year senior, 149-pounder didn’t achieve that goal, he ended his three-year Flashes career and month-long hot streak on the highest of notes.

In the fifth-place match against University of Michigan’s No. 5 seed Alec Pantaleo, DePalma was able to tilt Pantaleo once in the first period for four back points, giving him a 6-0 lead.

“I saw he let go of my leg, and he didn’t have anything really to post on,” DePalma said. “I just kept trying to expose his back and get his shoulders pretty close to the mat.”

In the second period, DePalma used the tilt again, this time resulting in a pin in the last match of his career.

“I think in a few hours it might (hit me),” DePalma said. “I might be in some tears. But my wrestling career ending has not hit me yet.”

Coach Jim Andrassy said he is “proud” of many of his wrestlers this year. But multiple times during the tournament, he made a point to say it about DePalma.

“He did all the right things,” Andrassy said. “When you’re a college student, it’s hard to do all the right things, especially when maybe the people around you aren’t always doing the right things. I’m proud that he made the decision somewhere in his life to change it and to be successful.

In fifth place, DePalma was the highest placer for Kent State.

“Obviously you want to be first,” he said. “But we did the best we could. We ended it full-hearted and wrestled with everything we had in us.”

DePalma’s teammate, fifth-year senior 157-pounder Ian Miller, was expected to place higher coming into the tournament after fourth and fifth place finishes in past tournaments.

However, Miller tweaked his knee in his semifinals loss the previous night to University of Illinois’s No. 1 seed and defending champion, Isaiah Martinez. Miller took a medical forfeiture, ending his Kent State career.

“It’s the last two matches of your life,” Andrassy said. “He’ll never wrestle again.”

Andrassy was almost at a loss for words when talking about Miller’s Kent State career, but summed it up poignantly.

“Three-time All-American.”

Miller bonded well with associate coach Matt Hill, who would usually be alone in Miller’s corner if one of his teammates was wrestling at the same time in a tournament.

Hill, like Andrassy with DePalma, said he’s proud of the way Miller went out in his last match.

“It’s kind of an Ian Miller theme of everything,” Hill said. “It’s everything or nothing. He’s always been that way. He goes out there and puts it on the line. Sometimes that’s why he gets injured. That’s his style of wrestling.”

Miller made it his goal to win a national championship his whole career, and his mission to win it this year. Even though he was unable able to participate in the finals, Hill said he has nothing to be ashamed of.

“Some people are critics of him because they think he can be way better than he is,” Hill said. “But he went out there and tried his best. I’m not going to try to take anything away from him. We’re proud of him. It was great coaching him over the years.”

Miller finishes his Kent State career tied for fifth all-time with 128 wins.

As a team, Kent State ended in 16th place, their highest NCAA Championships finish since 1985.

Dan Armelli is a sports reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].