RYAN REEBENACKER, KNIGHT WIRE MANAGER
For the first time in 28 years Wartburg is not the American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) wrestling champion, but a Miller once again finds himself holding the crown, just not the conference’s most historic coach Jim Miller. Now atop the A-R-C mound lies the Loras Duhawks, a team that is coached by a former Wartburg alum and D-III national champion, TJ Miller, Jim’s son.
Jim is a 10-time national champion and won the conference championship every year from 1994 to his retirement in 2012 with the Wartburg Knights.
“It’s crazy, my dad started it a long time ago,” the TJ said. “Maybe this was the only way, maybe this was fate. I’ve dreamt about this, doing it this way at Wartburg since I took the job.”
On Friday night, when Guy Patron Jr.’s 197-pound major decision essentially sealed the Duhawks first-ever conference championship over a Knights team that had won 220-consecutive duals, TJ found himself in awe of not only what he accomplished, but where he did it.
“I love this place [Wartburg],” TJ said. “Since I was 7-years-old I used to rollerblade around campus. I used to try to wear the same shoes as Zane Braggs, Tom Smith, I tried to emulate my style after Ben Shane. It’s incredible. I never thought in a thousand years I’d be at Loras. I’m at a loss for words, I don’t even know how to explain what I’m feeling right now.”
The dual between the Duhawks and the Knights went down to the wire, with Loras finally pulling away late and winning 19-17, and the arena rose and fell with every takedown. The bleachers in Wartburg’s Levick Arena were filled to the brim, with some attendees having to stand on the balcony to spectate.
“The atmosphere was electric, it was crazy,” TJ said. “It almost had a Battle of the Burgs feel to it.”
The Duhawks and Knights will advance to the NCAA Regionals in Dubuque, which houses the campus of Loras College, where only the top three wrestlers at each weight class will punch their tickets to the NCAA Championships.
“It just feels good right now,” TJ said. “I’m going to enjoy it for a night or two.”