Coming into this season, Maryland wrestling coach Alex Clemsen hoped Kal Miller would take a leap in his second year with the Terps.
“A guy that made the nationals as a true freshman, he gained a lot of confidence from that,” Clemsen said. “The run he put down the stretch, winning two matches and being alive day two, really set him up to take a big step.”
Miller’s freshman campaign last year had its highs and lows. He finished with an 18-18 record and qualified for the NCAA Championships behind a strong performance at the Big Ten Championships.
But he struggled in duals, going 7-12 and at one point lost seven straight during conference play. He also competed against several ranked wrestlers — almost half of his opponents before the Big Ten and NCAA Championships were ranked. Those challenges have Clemsen believing Miller is prepared to take the step forward the coach hopes to see.
“You add the fact that he was in the fire, competing at a really high level,” Clemsen said. “His win-loss record maybe wasn’t pretty, but when you go back and watch the matches and you see the results and you look at the box scores, you’re like ‘Wow. That record could’ve looked really differently.’”
Exposing Miller to difficult opponents as a true freshman has proved wise. He’s 4-0 this season, coming off an impressive performance at the Tiger Style Invite where he took first place at 141 pounds with a win over Missouri’s No. 16 Josh Edmond.
Miller’s battle with Edmond showcased his defense and patience. Miller said he knew Edmond looked for space to shoot for a double leg so he pressured forward to limit his opponent’s offense.
The only points through three periods were escapes, sending the match to overtime where the battle remained tied at one. Miller was the aggressor during the overtime period. Despite Edmond defending a deep shot, Miller felt like the match was his.
“In the tiebreaker, I looked at coach Nick [Brascetta] and coach Clemsen and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m winning this match,’” Miller said. “They’re like, ‘Let’s go win this match right here.’ He was tired, and we saw that and I escalated it. I just had to ride him so I got out on that first one.”
The win is impactful for Miller, who struggled last year against ranked opponents. Outside the NCAA and Big Ten Championships, Miller went 3-9 against ranked opponents, with all of his wins coming against wrestlers who were outside the top 20.
Miller has another tough test Monday in Maryland’s dual against Pittsburgh. The 18th-ranked Panthers have No. 7 Cole Matthews at 141, a 2022 All-American who beat Miller last year.
“You beat good guys, you get a good seat at the nationals and that’s what it’s all about,” Miller said. “Earlier in the year getting all these tough battles, I get to see where I’m at and what I get to improve on.”