By PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Fletcher Miller had his hand raised in victory in his final match on Saturday in Fargo, N.D. He was one step behind where he wanted to be — scoring a victory in the third-place match instead of the title match — yet close enough to know it’s within reach for the Kokomo High School senior-to-be.
Miller took third place at 220 pounds and All-American honors at the USA Wrestling Junior Freestyle Wrestling meet. It was his first experience at the national event after an injury last season curtailed his summer before he got a chance to see how high he could climb.
“I thought it was pretty cool getting out there and getting to go compete with guys at that level,” Miller said of the Junior Nationals. “It was good to go out there and get really good matches with guys who some of those guys have already signed with colleges.
“I thought I did good. I did pretty well for being my first time out there. I ended up getting that kid who won on his back.
“I was right there. I still have a year to go get it.”
Miller went 7-2 at the national meet where the top eight wrestlers per weight class received All-American honors. He won five matches by technical fall — including his third-place victory over North Carolina’s Kacee Hutchinson. He lost to Ohio’s Parker Knapp, the eventual seventh-place finisher, in the fifth round, then he lost to eventual champion Roy Nash of Utah in the match before the place matches. Miller had Nash on his back before Nash gained the advantage and pinned Miller in the opening period.
“I was very satisfied,” Miller said. “That kid I lost to [Nash], he ended up winning. That was disappointing, but the rest of the matches I felt like I did pretty good in.”
His high school coach, Kokomo’s Ryan Wells, was impressed.
“Fargo is by far the biggest high school national wrestling meet in the United States,” Wells said. “It’s the big one for sure. It’s a big deal just to make it. For him to go out there and get third, that’s pretty unbelievable.”
Miller wrestled at the same weight he did last high school season when he took second in the state at 220 pounds. He’s holding about the same weight, but feels more capable physically.
“The last couple months I feel like I’ve been making some pretty big leaps,” Miller said. “I’ve gotten a little bit bigger and stronger, and I’m practicing down at a place called CIA in Indianapolis [Central Indiana Academy of Wrestling]. That’s helped my technique a lot.”
Wells has seen improvement in just a few months.
“I wrestled with him right before state and I wrestled with him recently and he’s gotten so much better just in that time frame,” Wells said. “He just doesn’t take any days off. He lifts weight every single day, and he’s on the mat three to four times a week.
“He’s getting a lot better on his feet. His takedowns are unbelievable. For him being so big, his leg attacks are unreal. And his pinning combinations are getting better, too. He’s going out there and pinning top-level kids which is scary. His entire game is evolving. That’s a scary thing cause he was already pretty darn good.”
Miller is a football and wrestling standout for the Wildkats. There’s no question in his mind which is his primary sport.
“Wrestling, definitely,” he said. “I like going and competing. I like to win. It’s not always the most fun sport in practice, but when you go out there and get your hand raised [in victory], there’s not a whole lot in the world that feels better.”
Getting experience at a national meet like the one in Fargo will only make him stronger.
“This definitely helps, prepares me,” Miller said. “It will prepare me for state next year, and if I end up wrestling at the next level in college.”
Wrestling in college is one of Miller’s goals, though he’s early in that process.
“When you go and place pretty high in a national tournament, you get more attention than you did before, but I’m pretty undecided,” Miller said.
Before that, he still has one more year of high school to do as much as he can.
“He just keeps getting better and I think it’s going to show this year in his senior year,” Wells said.