CEDAR RAPIDS – Jim Miller went out on top, literally and figuratively.
After another dominating Wartburg performance, the Knights hoisted the longtime coach on their shoulders as he held the national title trophy, sending him into coaching retirement in fine fashion.
Top-ranked Wartburg had two finalists and crowned a champ, winning the team title at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships on Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The Knights tallied 103 points, beating Elmhurst (Ill.) by 22 points. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was third with 78.
Wartburg clinched its third straight title after the morning session. Miller, who announced before the season he would retire after 22 years leading the Knights, finally exhaled and allowed himself to relax with a fifth national title in the last six years in hand.
“Just relief,” Miller said when the Knights clinched the title. “I’m happy for our kids. I’m happy for our program and our fans.”
Miller guided Wartburg to 10 overall titles and five in the last six seasons. The Knights finished first or second nationally in 18 of those years. The numbers are impressive and so was the response by former members and supporters of the Wartburg program. Miller was visited by and received text messages from many of them from across the country.
“It’s really a family deal,” Miller said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Wartburg’s Kenny Anderson and Kodie Silvestri each attempted to capture a second straight national title. Anderson, the 2012 125-pound champ, faced UW-Whitewater’s Grant Sutter in the 133-pound finals. Silvestri won the title at 141 last year and faced sixth-seeded Greg Sanders of Concordia (Wis.) at 149.
Anderson tallied four takedowns with 4:26 of riding time for a 9-1 win over Sutter. Their previous match was closer, but Anderson wanted to make a dominant statement.
“This time, I just wanted to prove he shouldn’t be on the same stage as me,” Anderson said. “I really wanted to open up. Once I got that first takedown, I felt it. I knew I could break him.”
This title was sweeter. There was a lot at stake, including Miller’s last chance at a title, overcoming an injury during the summer and moving up a weight.
“I just feel I worked a lot harder this year than last year and had the same results,” Anderson said. “It means a lot to me.”
Silvestri (23-2) didn’t repeat, surrendering a reversal in the final 30 seconds in a 6-5 loss to Sanders (40-4), who celebrated with a backflip.
The Knights had seven All-Americans and all 10 wrestlers scored points, contributing to the team trophy. Wartburg’s Gilberto Camacho (125) and Tommy Mirocha (141) placed third. Landon Williams (165) and 157-pounder Cole Welter finished fourth and fifth, respectively, for the Knights. Heavyweight Ryan Fank was seventh.“I’m really gratified for the hard work these kids have put in and they get the chance to go out and get the trophy,” said Miller, who will turn the program over to co-head coach Eric Keller.