Miller takes second MAC title, Flashes finish sixth overall

Michael Mann

Kent State sophomore wrestler Ian Miller won the second MAC conference title of his career in the 157-pound weight class Sunday, after a weekend in which the Flashes took sixth in the overall team standings and two other Kent State wrestlers secured spots in the NCAA nationals.

“I’m wrestling the best I’ve ever wrestled right now,” Miller said. “In two weeks, I’ll definitely be ready for the National Championship. When I go out there and get my offense going it’s going to be tough to beat me. I’m ready to win a national title this year.”

Miller’s performance in the tournament sets him up to compete at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City. It marks Miller’s second appearance at the nationals.

As a freshman, Miller advanced to the second round of the competition after winning his first conference title. Miller was redshirted the following year, meaning that with Sunday’s win Miller has won the MAC title in both years he has wrestled as a Flash.

This year Miller has a chance to succeed on the national stage, after finishing the season ranked fifth nationally in his weight class.

The match for the MAC Championship in the 157-pound class was a rematch of the Jan. 26 meet between Kent State and Central Michigan — Ian Miller versus Luke Smith. Last time, Miller was leading 4-1 over Smith until Miller’s injured arm forced him to forfeit. Miller sat out three matches before returning and finishing the year with victories over ranked opponents from Missouri and Edinboro.

“I wasn’t even worried about my elbow,” Miller said. “He was out there cranking on it, but I wrestled my match and didn’t even let the elbow become a factor.”

Besides Miller, the Flashes featured two other wrestlers receiving automatic bids to the National Championship. Sophomores Mack McGuire and Mike DePalma both earned third-place in their respective weight classes. A few other wrestlers could earn “at-large” bids in the tournament or be voted in by the NCAA.

“I think you have to look at everything individually,” Kent State head coach Jim Andrassy said. “Some guys didn’t do their seed and now you sit and wait to see if they’re voted into NCAA national qualifiers. You have to look at it individually because at some point it becomes an individual sport.”

DePalma bounced back well at the tournament after finishing the regular season with a rough stretch of losses. Along DePalma’s path to third place he beat Robert Jillard of Northern Illinois, an opponent who pinned DePalma in just 46 seconds a month ago.

“He lost to Missouri, lost to Edinboro and he got beat bad,” Andrassy said. “He came off and was confused and didn’t know what to do. I told him to evaluate each match by match, compare where he’s at the beginning and end of the year, realize that his season isn’t over, and also realize that this is his first year starting. A lot of it is in his head I think, but he is not one of those kids I would want to wrestle.”

DePalma finished the year with an overall record of 20-16 despite being 19-11 at one point.

“It feels a lot better, I was in a pretty bad slump those last few weeks,” DePalma said. “It feels better to put a better performance on the mat, get some quality wins and start performing like I know how to.”

Missouri ended up taking the team overall title for the second straight season. The Tigers’ 118.5 points narrowly edged out Northern Iowa’s 116. With 67 points, the Flashes finished sixth.

The qualifying members of the Kent State wrestling team will head to Oklahoma City for the National Championships, taking place March 20-22.

Contact Michael Mann at [email protected].