2x All-American Jonathan Millner (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Over the next week, InterMat will unveil its annual, year-end conference awards. Each day will feature a new conference. Award winners have been selected by InterMat's editor and respective conference correspondent(s).
2022-23 InterMat SoCon Wrestler of the Year: Jonathan Millner (Appalachian State)
We've got an unusually unique set of circumstances surrounding the SoCon Wrestler of the Year. Jonathan Miller was well on his way to winning the award for the second consecutive year from InterMat when he was injured and unavailable to compete at the 2023 NCAA Championships. In Tulsa, the SoCon had a relatively down showing, as a whole, and only one wrestler advanced to the consolation round of 16. That pulls Millner back into the equation.
Millner had one of the greatest careers in the long history of Appalachian State wrestling earning All-American honors twice at the NCAA Championships. Along the way, he qualified for the NCAA Championships on four occasions, winning a SoCon title in each instance.
Millner's career ended on an 11-match winning streak after he ran through the SoCon schedule and conference tournament without a loss. At the SoCon's, Millner pinned his first two opponents before a 4-0 shutout in the championship bout.
Earlier in the 2022-23 season, Millner won the App State Invite and Keystone Classic before taking fourth place at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. For the year, Millner went 29-3 with the three losses coming to wrestlers that finished fourth (Kyle Parco) and fifth (Caleb Henson) in the nation and another coming to a former NCAA third-place finisher (Yahya Thomas).
In a Mountaineer singlet, Millner amassed a 121-24 record which was eight wins shy of the school record, was only the third multi-time All-American in program history and is the only App State wrestler to win four SoCon titles.
Appalachian State head coach JohnMark Bentley (right) (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
2022-23 InterMat SoCon Coach of the Year: JohnMark Bentley (Appalachian State)
Appalachian State finished the regular season with a 12-2 record and a #20 overall ranking nationally. Coach Bentley's team scored a huge upset win in mid-December against North Carolina and their only two losses on the year came to ACC foes #3 NC State and #8 Virginia Tech. For the second consecutive season, the Mountaineers navigated through the SoCon dual schedule without a loss.
The SoCon tournament has been where Appalachian State has faltered in the past; however, that streak stopped in 2023. From 2019-22, the Mountaineers finished second at the SoCo Championships to Campbell. There was no drama surrounding the tournament this season as Appalachian State put eight of their ten starters in the conference finals and took a commanding lead into the final session. ASU finished with a 24.5-point margin of victory and three conference champs (Caleb Smith, Millner, Tommy Askey).
Once at-large berths were announced, Appalachian State had five wrestlers headed to Tulsa. A few days before the event, an injury at 133 lbs allowed Ethan Oakley to compete, as well. Millner (#9) and Smith (#5) were both given top-ten seeds at nationals.
After the 2022-23 season, coach JohnMark Bentley's career record as head coach of the Mountaineers is 124-75. That total is the second highest in school history.
NCAA qualifier Ethan Oakley (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
2022-23 InterMat SoCon Freshman of the Year: Ethan Oakley (Appalachian State)
It wasn't until mid-January that Ethan Oakley ascended into the starting role for Appalachian State at 133 lbs. The Mountaineers had the services of 2021 national qualifier Sean Carter, who had a spot in the national rankings; however, Carter suffered a season-ending injury.
Oakley made the most of his opportunity and won the final eight duals of the season. Two of those wins came over top-20 opponents from Chattanooga and Campbell and gave him the top seed at the SoCon Championships. Unfortunately, after a loss in a true-second place match to Campbell's Dom Zaccone, it appeared as if Oakley wouldn't make the trip to nationals.
As mentioned above, Oakley got the call to fill in and ended up grabbing a win in the pigtail round over North Dakota State's McGwire Midkiff. That made him the only Appalachian State wrestler to notch a win in Tulsa. For his first full year as a starter, Oakley finished with a 21-13 record and has plenty of experience to build on going forward.
2021-22 Award Winners
SoCon Wrestler of the Year: Jonathan Millner (Appalachian State)
SoCon Coach of the Year: JohnMark Bentley (Appalachian State)
SoCon Rookie (Freshman) of the Year: Heath Gonyer (Appalachian State)