Miller’s time: Kiski Area senior aims for WPIAL Class AAA wrestling title

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019 | 7:28 PM


Darren Miller knows the challenges that await him at the WPIAL Class AAA wrestling championships. Little can surprise him after three prior trips to the tournament.

More than that, the Kiski Area senior’s previous experiences taught him what to expect.

“Sometimes WPIAL can be tougher than the state,” Miller said. “You’ve got to give it your best, and if you don’t, it can go badly.

“Some of the toughest guys in your state bracket can come from the WPIAL. You have to wrestle everyone tough there, or else it’s going to be a rough two days.”

Miller knows that well from wrestling at WPIALs the last three years — particularly 2018, when a stunning loss kept him out of the PIAA tournament entirely — but he has a big opportunity sitting in front of him at this season’s WPIAL championships, which run Friday and Saturday at Canon-McMillan.

Not only can Miller, the top seed in the 126-pound weight class, win his first career WPIAL championship this weekend, he also would become Kiski Area’s all-time winningest wrestler by doing so. He enters the tournament with 157 career victories, two shy of the record set last year by Noah Levett.

It could be Miller’s time.

“Whether it’s your own kids or it’s kids you coach, you just always tell them that the hard work always comes to the right guy in the end,” Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said. “That’s not really true — it doesn’t always work out like that. It would really be nice if it did for him.

“Obviously, he’s got some obstacles in his way, but I know he’s going to put everything he has and go after this thing. There’s several other very talented guys in the WPIAL as well as the state, but man, he’s about as focused as it gets right now.”

In some ways that goes back to last season’s WPIAL tournament.

Wrestling in the consolation semifinals against Hampton’s Tyler Kocak, with the winner of the match qualifying for the PIAA tournament and the loser getting eliminated, Miller led 3-0 in the third period before getting hit with a stalling call, allowing an escape, getting taken down and giving up two near-fall points.

All four of those events happened in the final 33 seconds of the match, ending Miller’s season when he appeared a near lock for a trip to Hershey.

“It was heartbreaking, to be honest. I was up in the match, (and to) get dumped and end up losing the match, it’s hard,” said Miller, who placed third in the WPIAL and in the state as a sophomore in 2017. “It (took a while to get over), but I was in the practice room every day, building my confidence, knowing that I’m the best I can be right now.”

Miller (38-1), who committed over the summer to Bucknell, began the season with a championship at the Eastern Area Invitational tournament, knocking off Franklin Regional’s Colton Camacho, a returning state runner-up, in the final.

The success has continued all season. Miller’s lone loss came to North Hills’ Sam Hillegas, a two-time PIAA champion, by one point in the championship round at the Powerade Christmas Tournament. He won his third Section 1-AAA title last week, again beating Camacho in the final.

“As a senior, you really hope it all comes together at the right time, and as the year has gone on … he’s just really matured 100 percent as a complete person in every phase of his life from what I’m seeing from him this year,” Heater said. “He works super hard in the practice room. He’s the complete package, he really is. He really is a good guy.”

One sign of Miller’s increased presence on the mat: He has 20 pins this season, double his previous career high.

“I feel like I kept my same style, but I was able to add on to it, broaden my spectrum, be able to shoot different shots, just being able to wrestle better as a whole,” Miller said. “I feel like my practicing and my conditioning definitely got me there, but my goal this year was to be as aggressive as I can, score points and just dominate the other opponent.”

Miller began the season at 132 pounds but cut down to 126 for the team postseason, helping Kiski Area win its third consecutive WPIAL Class AAA championship and finish third at the PIAA tournament. The move required more workouts and a vigilant diet.

“I was a little worried,” he said. “Weight cutting is not fun, but it’s rewarding. So I knew in my mind if I was able to do it, then I can come out with something greater.”

For Miller, that could be his first WPIAL title. He could face another battle with Franklin Regional’s Camacho in the finals, or perhaps Canon-McMillan’s Kenny Hayman, but Miller knows he has to get there first. Difficult opponents loom throughout the bracket.

“I’m not striving for anything less than a state title,” he said. “I feel like to accomplish my goals, I have to get there in a dominating fashion and be able to win. I have to be able to trust in (my training) and wrestle my match in every single one.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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