MADISON — Mauston’s Teagen Miller entered this year’s state tournament in a position few, if any, other wrestlers at the Kohl Center could fully relate to: the top-ranked wrestler and the favorite to win the state title in his weight class, a senior making his third trip to state, but one without a single win at the state tournament to his name.
This time, Miller didn’t just win his first career state tournament match; he went all the way to capture the Division 2 145-pound state title, the eighth individual state championship ever by a Mauston wrestler.
Miller’s triumph came during the 2018 WIAA state individual wrestling championship tournament, held February 24-26 at the Kohl Center in Madison. Despite putting together one of the most successful careers in the history of Mauston wrestling, the Kohl Center previously was a house of horrors for Miller.
As a sophomore, he made his first state tournament appearance, but a knee injury that eventually required offseason surgery helped contribute to a first-round exit. The following year, he came into Madison as the top-ranked Division 2 wrestler in his weight class and with a bye into the quarterfinals by virtue of winning a sectional title. However, a bout with the flu derailed his dream of a state title, as he was pinned in the quarterfinals and proceeded to lose his first match in the consolation bracket as well.
For all his accolades, Miller — a three-time conference champion, two-time sectional champion and one-time regional champion — simply seemed snakebitten once the state tournament rolled around.
According to his father, Mark Miller, a former Mauston wrestling head coach, there were times when Teagen wondered if it would ever happen for him.
“We talked about the bad luck he’s had in his career — this amazing career, but the cherry on top of the cake has always been missing,” Mark said. “He would come to me and just say ‘why doesn’t it ever work out for me, why do I always seem to have bad luck?’ It broke your heart as a parent because you saw the work he’s put in.”
Rather than let the misfortunes and disappointment consume him, Teagen used it as further motivation in his quest for state gold.
“Every night he runs, every night he lifts — pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups. His days off, he always does something,” Mark said. “Not that there isn’t tons of kids that (put in the work), but I’ll argue with anybody — there might be some kids who work just as hard, but you can’t possibly do more than what he’s done year-round in training and the sacrifices he’s made. That’s what makes it so special.”
With a first-place finish at the Division 2 Richland Center sectional, Miller ensured he’d get one more chance in Madison and earned a bye into the quarterfinals.
His road to redemption began Friday morning with a quarterfinal matchup against North Fond du Lac/Saint Mary’s Springs sophomore Andrew Forsythe (30-5). In a closer-than-expected match, Miller escaped with a win via a 7-6 decision. There were no injuries or illnesses hindering him this time, but Miller admitted his nerves got to him a little as he pursued his first win at the state tournament.
“I think it was just nerves,” he said. “The past two years, I’ve made it to state. As a sophomore, I lost in the first round, so I was done. And last year, ranked No. 1 in the state, I got sick and didn’t win a match. So I had never had my first win at state, and I think that’s why I was so nervous and that’s why I wrestled so badly. The nerves got me.”
Later Friday evening, Miller (46-2) squared off against Luxemburg-Casco junior Colton Worachek (42-12) in the semifinals with a spot in the championship match on the line. Miller topped Worachek by an 8-2 decision with a much stronger performance to place himself just one win away from his ultimate goal.
The moment Miller has trained for since he was a little kid finally arrived Saturday evening, where the only thing standing between him and a state championship was Ellsworth junior Jared Lansing (41-6).
The two carefully picked their spots throughout the match, with Miller scoring a takedown toward the end of the first round to grab a 2-0 lead. After both wrestlers picked up a point for escapes, the score stood at 3-1 in the third round. Lansing scored a takedown of his own to tie things up at 3-3, but, figuring Miller was going to escape and get a point anyway, immediately relinquished him so he could go for another takedown with more time left.
Now holding a 4-3 lead, Miller needed only to evade a takedown while also avoiding a stalling call after receiving a stall warning earlier in the match. Miller successfully staved off Lansing over the final 30 seconds of the third round to finally achieve his long-awaited dream of becoming a state champion.
“I came into the tournament not even having a state win under my belt,” he said. “And now I come here and I win the whole thing. It’s amazing.”
An emotional Miller embraced his coaches and ran over to hug his dad, who elected not to sit in one of Mauston’s three coaching seats during the match to avoid putting additional pressure on his son. After all the hard work and persistence through the ill-timed trials and tribulations, Miller finally had exorcised his Kohl Center demons.
“I don’t even remember, I was crying too hard and I was so happy,” Teagen said of the moment he shared with his coaches and dad. “It’s just perfect. It couldn’t have been any better.”
The weekend was a little bittersweet for the Golden Eagles, as senior Jarrett Dolata fell short in his bid for a state title of his own.
In his first-round match Thursday night in the Division 2 152-pound bracket, Dolata (44-5) defeated Cedar Grove-Belgium senior Bryce Morgan (34-11) by a 14-6 major decision. In Friday morning’s quarterfinals, Dolata pinned Somerset senior Preston Anez (36-8) at 2:43 to advance to the semifinals later that evening.
In his semifinal match, Dolata lost in a heartbreaker to Evansville/Albany senior Nolan Kicmol by a 3-2 decision and was sent to the consolation bracket. In the consolation semifinals Saturday morning, Dolata won via a 10-5 decision against Ellsworth junior Cedric Kosnopfal (28-16). Later that afternoon, in the third-place match, Dolata dropped another 3-2 decision, this time against Freedom junior Sam Peters (35-9).
The fourth-place finish was a disappointing result for Dolata, who took third at state last year and entered the tournament ranked second in the state among Division 2 wrestlers in his weight class.
Nevertheless, the lack of a state title does little to diminish his accomplishments for Mauston. In his four years as a Golden Eagle, Dolata medaled in both his appearances at state, was a runner-up at the 2017 Bi-State Classic and won two conference titles and a regional title.
“Even though he didn’t accomplish his goal, he had a fantastic career and a fantastic year,” said first-year Mauston head coach Colin Dolata, who is Jarrett’s older brother. “It was nice to be part of that, part of his senior year, something he’ll remember for a while.”
Mark Miller also lauded Dolata, who, despite enduring two heartbreaking losses over the weekend, did all he could to help prepare Teagen ahead of his championship match.
“Jarrett deserves a world of credit for this state title, and Teagen would be the first to admit that,” said Mark, who noted the two have wrestled and trained together since elementary school. “And tonight, Jarrett’s done, he’s got his medal and he’s still obviously down. Yet he’s with Teagen, he’s down there working out, getting Teagen ready. That could not be an easy thing, but that shows what a true friend he is and the good person that he is.”
Both Teagen and Jarrett come from families that are synonymous with Mauston wrestling.
Jarrett is the latest in a line of Dolata brothers who have wrestled for the Golden Eagles. Four of his brothers — Kyle, Tyler, Colin and Justin — preceded him at Mauston High School. Tyler, the oldest, qualified for state, while Colin and Justin won state titles in 2011 and 2014, respectively. Justin remains the only unbeaten state champion in Mauston wrestling history.
Despite Jarrett’s departure, another Dolata brother, Brandon, will be a freshman next year and is poised to carry on the family tradition.
Meanwhile, Mark Miller and two of his brothers, Tom and Dan, have been involved with Mauston wrestling for decades. Mark placed fourth at the 1986 state meet, Dan won a state championship in 1987 and Tom was a runner-up in 1991. In addition, Mark and Tom have both spent time as the head wrestling coach for the Golden Eagles, and all three are involved with Mauston’s youth wrestling program.
But with a state championship to his name now, Teagen owns a little family bragging rights.
“I’ve been wrestling for as long as I can remember,” he said. “It was just natural to come up wrestling. And as I started getting older, I wanted to be able to say that I am the best Miller to ever go through here.”
“I don’t know, I think I might be the best Miller now. This is what I needed.”