DePalma’s faith fuels him to 5th; Miller finishes 6th at NCAA Championships


Fifth-year starter Mike Depalma grapples for position in the clinch against Justin Oliver of Central Michigan University on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016 at the M.A.C. Center.

Dan Armelli

Mike DePalma and coach Jim Andrassy knew what the former had to do in order to be successful in his final year as a Kent State wrestler. They had been preaching it since day one.  

“It’s mostly mental stuff,” DePalma said on Nov. 3, days before Kent State made its season debut at the Eastern Michigan University duals. “The training didn’t really need to change. The way I view things in situations, or handle situations, is what I needed to change in certain aspects.”

DePalma won all of his matches at the Eastern Michigan duals, including one over Rider’s 2015 All-American B.J. Clagon. 

Andrassy shared his belief in the 149-pounder’s ability afterward.

“It’s not the first All-American that (DePalma’s) beaten, but it starts his year off well,” Andrassy said. “I know he has some really high hopes. It puts all the work that he’s done over the summer into perspective. He’s made strides. He’s good enough to be an ‘All-American.’”

Almost four months later and DePalma is able to say he handled situations well and is an All-American.

DePalma wrestled eight matches in three days at the NCAA Championships, winning six of them en route to helping extend Kent State’s streak to eight-straight years with an All-American. 

Three of DePalma’s six wins came over the No. 4, 9 and 5 seeds, respectively. He outplaced his seeding, finishing in fifth as the No. 10 seed.  

DePalma also earned almost half of Kent State’s total points (28.5) with 14. 

He lost twice, to the No. 7 and 11 seeds, but both times won his very next match via bonus points. 

DePalma was viewed as a guy that was high and low emotionally, but one mental adjustment was able to put him at ease and become consistent through the winning and losing.

“I realized I can’t figure anything out without God,” DePalma said. “I gave my life up to God through my faith in Jesus Christ. I never thought that would be something that would make my wrestling take off, but it allowed me to wrestle so freely and just at peace whether I win or lose. 

DePalma’s faith is what kept him on an even keel, dancing on the floor of Madison Square Garden before sessions and hugging opponents after matches. 

“My faith in Jesus is the biggest part of it,” he said. “That’s what allows me to relax and dance and just enjoy life. It gives me peace in my heart.”

In late January, Andrassy knew what the end goal was for DePalma. 

“DePalma is as hot and as cold a wrestler you’ll ever find,” Andrassy said on Jan. 21. “It’s our job and his job to make sure that he’s hot going into the national tournament.”

If DePalma was anything going into nationals, it was hot.  

DePalma won nine of his last 11 matches going into the NCAA Championships, including the three-straight wins that earned him the MAC title. 

It was the performances over the past month that make Andrassy proud of what DePalma has done.

“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.

DePalma ended the year winning 15 of his last 19 matches. 

“He did an amazing job for us,” Andrassy said. “I couldn’t be prouder, and hopefully kids can look at him and say, ‘If Mike DePalma can do it, I can do it.’”

DePalma’s teammate and fellow fifth-year senior, 157-pounder Ian Miller, finished below the expectations of himself and the coaches. However, he went out in a way that was vintage Ian Miller. 

“It’s kind of … (a) Miller theme of everything,” associate head coach Matt 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 his way back to the semifinals for the first time since 2014.

Miller went toe-to-toe with eventual two-time defending champion and University of Illinois’ No. 1 seed Isaiah Martinez. 

Miller went into the third period down 4-2. After an escape from the down position, Miller landed an inside trip on Martinez that was shown on Madison Square Garden’s jumbotron as being one of the best moves of the tournament.  

Martinez escaped, forcing Miller to make one last attempt at a finals-clinching takedown. Miller was able to get Martinez on his back, but only for a split second, as Martinez kicked up his knees and forced enough space between him and Miller to avoid the loss.

Sudden victory ended when Martinez countered Miller’s attack and scored the match-winning takedown. 

“He probably had the most exciting semifinal match of the night,” Hill said. “I know he’s not happy about it. I know he wanted to be in the finals.”

Miller medically defaulted to sixth place after he tweaked his oft-injured right knee in the first period of his semifinals match following an attempt to escape. 

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

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,” he said.

Hill, who Miller grew close to throughout his career, said that even through all the adversity Miller had to wrestle through, he wrote his own story.

“His story is that he’s (an) exciting, dynamic wrestler that’s going to be remembered for wowing the crowd and (exciting) people about wrestling and make wrestling fun,” Hill said. “He’s a ferocious competitor in the wrestling room. When he practices, he practices harder than anybody who’s ever wrestled in that room.”

DePalma and Miller were the major driving forces behind Kent State’s 16th place, its best finish since 1985.  

The Flashes also received wins from three other wrestlers. 

Senior 133-pounder Mack McGuire, a four-time national qualifier, finished the tournament 2-2. He ends his Kent State career with the 13th most wins in program history with 109.  

Fifth-year senior Tyler Buckwalter made his nationals debut as an at-large bid. He earned his first and only win in the first consolation round. 

Buckwalter nearly came away with a second win over University of Stanford’s No. 13 seed Jim Wilson, but Wilson scored a takedown with two seconds left to win 6-5. 

Redshirt freshman 197-pounder Kyle Conel also made his nationals debut, going 2-2. Conel beat South Dakota State University’s No. 15 seed Nate Rotert. But his most impressive moment came in his second round match with Penn State University’s No. 1 seed Morgan McIntosh.

McIntosh, who ended up finishing second in the tournament, was the defending champion. Conel put McIntosh on his back and in position for a pin early in the contest.  

Conel displayed his power, earning a 4-2 lead after the first period. However, McIntosh displayed his experience, eventually pinning Conel in the third period.

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