NEW YORK, N.Y. – Ian Miller does not have pleasant memories of the 2015 NCAA championships. As a junior 157-pounder he suffered a tough loss and that’s putting it mildly.
During a wild quarterfinal bout in St. Louis with Cornell’s Brian Realbuto, Miller led 8-4 with under 40 seconds to wrestle. Then things unraveled in more ways than one.
A Realbuto escape and takedown made it 8-7. An escape for Miller – yes, there was an escape but no point was awarded – and it was still 8-7. A late takedown for the Big Red sophomore and it was 9-8, Realbuto. A riding-time point for Miller sent the match to overtime where another takedown gave Realbuto an 11-9 victory.
And then the real chaos ensued.
Wrestling fans in the know -- a very energetic and vocal group -- went bat crazy. The Twittersphere lit up. Somebody fouled things up. Little consolation to Miller and the Kent State program, the NCAA released a statement not long after the match.
“The NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee met to discuss the scoring error in the match between Brian Realbuto and Ian Miller, and our determination was that there is a protocol in place for coaches to challenge errors in a match via the coaches challenge (Rule 3.21.2 b). Kent State had challenges remaining and did not raise the challenge flag to declare an error in the match, therefore the resulting Cornell victory stands.”
Kent State head coach Jim Andrassy received some blame for the situation. But, as is usually the case, plenty of opportunities existed to fix things for a number of those matside.
“One thing that no one knows and got overlooked is our team had already been warned three times for approaching table or doing things incorrectly,” Andrassy told Mark Hazelwood of the Sandusky Register earlier this week. “When I went to the table during the match, I asked them to please check the score. The response was ‘the score is right, get back to chair before you get penalized.’ So you can blame me, I don’t mind taking some of it. But there were also five other people on the mat who were supposed to get this right — and we all got it wrong.”
Miller, now a senior, put all that behind him on Friday. The Golden Flash senior beat Michigan’s Brian Murphy in the quarterfinals to advance to tonight’s semifinals where he will meet top-seeded Isaiah Martinez of Illinois. At 23-1, Miller’s lone loss came thanks to an injury default in the Mid-American Conference semifinals two weekends ago.
For a moment, during an officials video review during his match with Murphy on Friday, things got weird again.
“I was having weird flashbacks, but it gave me time to catch my breath and not get caught up in the crowd or anything,” said Miller, a native of Oak Harbor, Ohio.” I just knew even if he got the two back points, it’d be tied up and I still had riding time and would go down. It gave me a little comfort room and he was really trying to turn me and I stayed tough.”
A go-for-broke style has been tempered somewhat this season. “Going for it” against Martinez last season got him pinned. Tonight?
“I’ve been a little down this year, a little banged up,” said Miller, who has two decisions and a pin this week. “So I haven’t been trying all the crazy stuff because I was scared of getting hurt. But this is my last go round in the semifinals, so yeah, you guys are going to see a show, some fireworks.”
A win tonight and memories of 2015 will continue to fade.
“It was something big that happened, and I don’t think people are going to forget that,” he said. “I’m comfortable with it by now. I was still getting tweets about it from people a good two months after the fact, and it did probably take a couple months to just completely let it go and just get past it. Finally I was just like, ’Eh, whatever. It’s done.’”
Penn State turned in another good Friday morning and built a 14 ½ point lead over second-place Ohio State (68 ½ to 54) by the end of the session. PSU pushed Nico Megaludis (30-3 at 125), Zain Retherford (32-0 at 149), Jason Nolf (32-1 at 157), Bo Nickal (32-1 at 174), and Morgan McIntosh (31-0 at 197) into the semifinals. Nolf and Nickal won head-to-head battles with fellow freshmen from Oklahoma State.
Nolf scored a big takedown late in the second period to break a 2-2 tie; over the final two minutes the Nittany Lion was dominant and eventually won by major decision over Joe Smith. Nickal used a big 4-point turn early and rolled Chandler Rogers, 15-4. Retherford pinned Central Michigan’s Justin Oliver, while McIntosh hammered Nebraska’s Aaron Studebaker.
Jordan Conaway (133) is all that remains on the backside for PSU. Jimmy Gulibon (141) and Geno Morelli (165) each dropped wrestleback matches Friday afternoon and were eliminated.
The Buckeyes and Iowa each advanced four to the semifinals, with Oklahoma State and Missouri qualifying three. 2015 NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello (25-0 at 125), Bo Jordan (19-2 at 165), rookie Myles Martin (31-6 at 174), and Kyle Snyder (9-0 at 285) won quarterfinal bouts for Ohio State, who leads Iowa by 5 ½ and Oklahoma State by 8 points. The Cowboys had a tough Friday morning, winning just 3 of 7, but still have eight wrestlers in the tournament.
Two-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer (31-0 at 165) was joined by teammates Anthony Collica (28-7 at 149) and Dean Heil (30-1 at 141) in the semis; Collica won his second straight 3-2 match, beating Missouri’s Lavion Mayes after knocking off Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis, the 2014 NCAA champ, on Thursday night.
Iowa’s expected semifinalist came in the form of their four 2015 All-Americans, Thomas Gilman (27-1 at 125), Cory Clark (25-1 at 133), Brandon Sorensen (28-1 at 149), and Nathan Burak (26-2 at 197).
Questions about New York hosting the NCAA Championships have quickly been put to rest. Through three sessions Madison Square Garden has seen 53,468 fans. With three sessions remaining the NCAA record from 2015 of 113,013 could be in jeopardy.
Big numbers II
Eight wrestlers seeded outside the top 10 and one unseeded wrestler moved into the semifinals.
Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon (27-0) opened by beating Cornell’s Realbuto in the first round. The junior from Jackson, Mi., beat Ohio’s seventh-seeded Cody Walters Friday afternoon and meets 11th-seeded Myles Martin (31-6) tonight.
American’s David Terao, one of two No. 15 seeds in the final four, used a good old-fashioned headlock to pin Stanford’s Connor Schram in the 125-pound quarterfinals. It came less than 24 hours after a 5-3 win over Virginia Tech’s second-seeded Joey Dance.
“The game plan (going forward) is to keep wrestling like I’ve been wrestling – laser focus, executing everything as perfectly as possible, and not being afraid to fight out there,” said Terao on Thursday.
“Something David is doing extremely well right now is staying in his comfort zone,” said American head coach Teague Moore, a former national champion at 125 pounds. “He’s doing the things that he does well and he’s doing them exceptionally well.
“I’m so happy for him – he’s on point right now.”
Terao (28-5), a senior from Hawaii, meets Penn State’s Nico Megaludis tonight.
Rider’s Chad Walsh (28-7) followed up his win over North Carolina State’s Thomas Gantt, the second seed at 157 pounds, with a wild 11-10 victory over South Dakota State’s Cody Pack in the quarterfinals.
Two No. 14 seeds – Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith at 141 and Missouri’s Willie Miklus at 197 – also advanced to the semifinals, Meredith, a sophomore, locking up a late cradle to beat Ohio State rookie Micah Jordan in the third session.
North Carolina State’s Pete Renda, seeded 11th at 184; Indiana’s Nathan Jackson, No. 12 at 174; and Oklahoma State’s Anthony Collica, No. 11 at 149, also moved into Friday night’s big show. Jackson (34-7) is the only man to beat Nickal this season. They meet again tonight.
● The top four seeds advanced to the semifinals at 133 pounds. Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett (35-0) meets Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer (24-2), the 2015 champion tonight. The bottom half has a Big Ten battle between 2015 finalist Cory Clark (25-1) of Iowa and Illinois’ Zane Richards (26-1). The top four seed at 165 and 197 also pushed through.
● Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil (30-1) avenged his one loss this season, beating North Carolina’s Joey Ward, 8-3, in a 141-pound quarterfinal. An uneventful match turned Heil’s way with a big 6-point move in the third period. Both Heil and Ward call Ohio home.
● Alex Dieringer moved his win streak to 80 with an 11-5 win over Iowa State’s Tanner Weatherman at 165 pounds. Dieringer, a two-time NCAA champion, beat Weatherman, 3-2, in the Big 12 Conference finals. The Cowboy senior was taken down for the first time in 2015-16.
● Cousins Isaac and Bo Jordan meet in tonight’s 165-pound semifinals. Isaac (28-0) of Wisconsin, beat Bo (19-2) of Ohio State in the Big Ten finals two weekends ago.
● 21 schools have a semifinalist. The Big Ten leads the pack with 22.
● Rider and Rutgers have never had a national champion. Chad Walsh (Rider, 157) and Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers, 141) are two wins away from ending that distinction.
● Iowa continued its long streak of All-Americans, pushing four into the semifinals. The last time the Hawkeyes did not have at least top-eight finish was 1971, a streak of 45 years, a number that leads all Division I programs. Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr pushed the Gophers’ streak to 31 years, the second longest, with Nebraska (28), Illinois (24), and Oklahoma State (23) also producing at least one top-eight man.