By JAMES RANDALL
Every athlete wants the ability to get in the zone, to come through when the pressure is on or to beat the clock for a last second victory.
For one BYU wrestler, that’s exactly what’s happening.
In his last three matches, Chris Miller has beaten two No. 8 ranked wrestlers, and pinned the third.
The best thing about those victories?
They came in crunch time.
The last one was an overtime pin of Eastern Illinois’ No. 8 Mike Russow that propelled Miller to the National tournament in St. Louis March 16-18.
“My goal the whole season has been to improve every week,” Miller said. “I’ve taken one aspect of my match to improve upon each week and worked on that specific aspect. Now, it’s all coming together.”
Is the team surprised by Miller’s strong finish?
“I’m not really surprised,” said Aaron Holker, another national qualifier. “He could always beat those guys, but I think his attitude is better now. One mistake for heavyweights is crucial and he’s not making mistakes.”
In a more modest way, Miller agrees.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the coaches,” Miller said. “The training we’ve had and the different techniques we’ve learned have helped us to do well.
“I saw it in the summer that it was going to be a turnaround year for me. It’s exciting to see the vision coming true.”
For a program that is hanging on by a thread and just waiting to be cut off for good, Miller, along with four other BYU wrestlers, are hanging on just a little longer.
Miller’s stellar performance helped the Cougars place second as a team at the Western Regional tournament last Saturday, March 4, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Miller is trying to prove that his unranked status may not be an accurate measure of his outstanding performances on the mat.
“The only benefit of being ranked is the seeding you get in the national tournament,” Miller said. “If I’m ranked, I’d like to be in the top ten to get a good seed. Otherwise, everyone is out to get you.”
BYU qualified five wrestlers for the national tournament. In addition to Miller, Trent Rollins used a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye to win the title at 125 pounds, defeating Northern Iowa’s Eric Dunmire in a thrilling 7-6 decision.
Rangi Smart extended his winning streak to 12 consecutive matches by beating Marquette’s No. 20 Peter Butville and winning the 165-pound division title.
Two other Cougars qualified by picking up wild-card bids.
Rocky Smart, returning after being out for six weeks with a sprained knee, finished third in his division and Aaron Holker qualified after a sub-par match put him at second in his division.
“I’ve always believed it’s whatever your attitude is,” Holker said. “I just have to boost my mental confidence. This week I’m working more on the mental than the physical.”
Northern Iowa, ranked No. 9, took the team title with 146.5 points; BYU followed with 96.5 points; Eastern Illinois had 77 points and Fresno State, who BYU lost to earlier in the season finished at fifth with 65.5 points.
In the 141-pound class, Holker cruised to the finals, but was humbled by No. 13 Nick Flach of Northern Iowa. Flach won in a major decision, 13-3, in Holker’s worst loss of the season, but Aaron’s regular season feats and second-place finish were enough to earn him a ticket to the NCAAs.
Unfortunate timing saw Rocky Smart back in action for the first time in six weeks against the deepest weight class of the tournament.
Four wrestlers qualified at 157 pounds, as Smart recovered from an overtime loss in the first round to win out and
1. Northern Iowa (7 qualifiers) 146.5
2. BYU (5) 96.5
3. Eastern Illinois (3) 77
4. Air Force (1) 66
5. Fresno State(3) 65.5
6. Wyoming (1) 55
7. Marquette (2) 42
125- Trent Rollins, 1st
141- Aaron Holker, 2nd
157- Rocky Smart, 3rd
165- Rangi Smart, 1st
Hwt- Chris Miller, 1st