Covington senior Lance Miller became the fourth wrestler in Buccaneer history (Logon Brown, Andrew DeHart and Jarred Ganger) to reach the state finals as he took second at state in the 160 pound weight class. Miller’s effort at state was even more special because it gave long-time coach Tom Barbee the opportunity to coach the final match of his career on the biggest stage of high school wrestling – the state finals.
PRELIMINARIES: MILLER GOES “OLD SCHOOL”
MARCH 9, 2017 – COLUMBUS
In the rich tradition of Covington wrestling, Lance Miller entered the 2017 OHSAA Individual State Wrestling Championships as the 39th state qualifier in school history and the 30th state qualifier under longtime coach Tom Barbee.
And Miller went “Old School” by breaking out an old Covington singlet for his opening match against Bailey Blair of Smithville (39-8) – a black and silver singlet with the old block C on the chest and the word Buccs down the side.
It brought back memories of former Buccaneer great wrestlers having success at state, something Miller hopes to do by becoming the program’s 11th state placer.
And the Buccaneer senior passed the first test by thoroughly dominating Blair en route to a convincing 10-2 win.
“We’re real proud of him,” said Covington coach Tom Barbee. “He did a good job of focusing on his match.”
Miller got off to a fast start as he recorded a takedown and two near fall points for a 4-0 lead after one.
He then poured it on in the second, recording two more takedowns and two near fall points to push his advantage to 10-1 with three minutes left to wrestle.
Miller chose bottom in the third period and used the clock to his advantage – never allowing his dangerous opponent to lock in a move for points. It did result in a stalling point awarded to Blair with 22 seconds left, but by then the outcome was never in doubt.
“He wrestled smart and didn’t get himself into any trouble positions,” Barbee said. “That’s what we’ve got to do over here.”
The win sets up a quarterfinal match against a wrestler who many feel is projected to finish atop the podium Saturday night – Josh Doherty (47-2) of West Jefferson.
But matches are not won by projections, something Miller and his coaches are very well aware of.
“Yeah, I have a real good kid next round,” Lance said. “I just have to come out, wrestle hard and get it done.”
Which is what Miller has done all year in recording a 45-4 record – where all four of his defeats were against wrestlers at a higher weight or a higher division.
The quarterfinal round begins tomorrow at 10am.
Until then, Miller (45-4) and his coaches get to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.
QUARTERFINAL: MILLER ADVANCES WITH STUNNING PIN
MARCH 10, 2017 – COLUMBUS
Covington coach Tom Barbee has seen his fair share of Buccaneer wrestlers put everything on the line in the state wrestling tournament only to see it end in controversial fashion.
But Friday morning in the state quarterfinal he witnessed his wrestler catch a break as senior 160 pounder Lance Miller picked up a defensive pin of projected state champion Josh Doherty of West Jefferson.
“Yeah, it was a break,” said Barbee. “We took advantage of it though. He (Lance) felt very comfortable in what he was doing and took advantage of the situation.”
It was an odd scene of events as Doherty had Miller locked up in a tilt and was awarded three back points.
But as quickly as the referee’s hand went up to signal three points, his other hand just as quickly slapped the mat – resulting in a victory via pin for Miller in 3:42.
“He was going for a tilt and locked up some near fall,” Miller explained. “It’s something I felt (Doherty out of position), so I pushed back into him and got the pin.”
And despite the obvious and understandable protest by Doherty’s camp, Miller isn’t about to apologize for his good fortune.
“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” Miller said with a broad smile on his face. “I’m on to the semifinals.”
Miller shouldn’t apologize because it’s similar to a move Jason Kingrey used back in the 1980’s to place at state.
“It’s not exactly the same as what Jason did, but it’s similar,” said Covington assistance coach Eric Vanderhorst. “Jason would set guys up for that. Lance basically just took advantage of the situation when it was there. It was a position you don’t want to see your wrestler in, but Lance made a heads-up decision by pushing back into him (Doherty).”
Up to that point Miller had wrestled nearly flawlessly – executing two first period takedowns en route to a 4-2 lead after one.
“Going into that match we knew that his (Doherty’s) right lead leg was going to work into Lance’s elbow pass and high crotch,” Vanderhorst explained. ” And it did because Lance scored two takedowns off of it and almost got another one that ended up out of bounds.”
Doherty chose bottom to start the second and Miller surrendered the escape point to make the score 4-3.
The West Jefferson wrestler and state runner-up last year then took Miller down to take his first lead of the contest at 5-4.
He then locked up the tilt for three back points before Miller stunned him with a heads-up move for a defensive pin.
Miller, now 46-4, will face Tyler Speelman of Nelsonville-York (50-7) in the semifinal later this evening.
SEMIFINAL: LANCE MILLER IS ON A MISSION
MARCH 10, 2017 – COLUMBUS
Lance Miller is on a mission to become just the third Buccaneer wrestler in school history to win a state wrestling championship.
And his mission has just one more hurdle as Miller defeated Tyler Speelman of Nelsonville-York (50-8) by the score of 9-7 in the semifinal.
“It feels good,” Miller said. “I was pretty confident going in that I could get some takedowns early and that’s what I did.”
The Buccaneer wrestler continued his dominating ways by building a 9-5 lead before surrendering a late takedown in a 9-7 win.
“Once I got the lead I just tried to stay away from any big throws,” he explained. “I started to wrestle sort of stupid, but I had a break on blood time to kind of gather myself and refocus. I wrestled a lot smarter after that.”
Protecting a four-point lead late in the match, Miller shot in low to keep from getting thrown in a last ditch effort by Speelman. He ultimately surrendered the meaningless takedown with 8 seconds left and flattened out for the win.
“Lance has done a great job of setting up his shots and finishing them,” Covington coach Tom Barbee said. “Typically Lance likes to turn guys, but that’s not what we wanted to do in this match. We wanted Lance to control the action on his feet and he did a good job of executing the game plan.”
Miller was very emotional after the match as he raced into the stands to embrace his parents before returning for interviews.
“My family means so much to me,” he said, attempting to hold back tears. “I know how much this means to them and I want to do it (win state) for them – especially my parents.”
Miller now 47-4, will have 24 hours to prepare and hopefully do just that tomorrow night at the Schott.
FINALS: LANCE MILLER FINISHES RUNNER-UP
MARCH 11, 2017 – COLUMBUS
Covington senior Lance Miller felt a deep hurt in the pit of his stomach after a mentally draining and heartbreaking 1-0 defeat in his 160 pound state championship match to James Limongi of Genoa Area on Saturday.
But when the dust settles and Miller has a chance to be alone with his thoughts, he will eventually realize the magnitude of what he accomplished in the final tournament of his high school career.
“It sucks,” said a very dejected Buccaneer wrestler after his final match. “I was so close and came up short. I know in some time I’ll look back at what I was able to do and be proud, but right now this sucks.”
What Miller will realize when he eventually can review his weekend at state is he wrestled the tournament of his life on the biggest stage of his life. He’ll also realize he is right in the mix with the best high school wrestlers in the state of Ohio.
“We’re proud of him,” said Covington coach Tom Barbee. “He really started to come on after the Troy Invitational and had a great run. We came up a little short tonight and I know he’s disappointed, but he should be proud of himself.”
Since the Troy Invitational, Miller has become a takedown machine. But on Saturday, Limongi was able to ward off each shot attempted by Miller.
“He wouldn’t tie up with me and I could never find a rhythm,” Miller explained. “It threw me off.”
The match was scoreless after one and Limongi chose the bottom position to start the second. The Buccaneer senior immediately surrendered the escape so he could take the match back to his feet in hopes of finding his groove for a takedown.
But once again, every time Miller shot in, Limongi was able to avoid trouble as the match went into the third period with Lance down 1-0.
“That was their strategy to stay away from Lance on their feet and keep the match close into the third period,” explained Covington assistant coach Eric Vanderhorst.
Miller chose bottom to start the third and was close to tying the score on a gramby roll just 15 seconds into the frame. But as Miller cleared the grasp of Limongi he was accurately ruled out of bounds.
From there Miller continued trying to escape, but Limongi was unbelievably sound from the top position.
“He’s a beast on top,” Miller said. “I was close to getting out a couple of times, but I just couldn’t get away.”
Miller’s final attempt to turn the tables came in the final 20 seconds as he attempted a switch.
And he came very close to getting the reversal, but Limongi once again was able to hold on to Miller’s leg as the clock expired.
“I really wanted this match,” Miller said. “It sucks to lose 1-0.”
Still, it was a memorable and historic weekend for Lance Miller and Buccaneer wrestling as he became the 11th wrestler in Covington history to finish on the podium and just the fourth wrestler to reach the state championship match – the others being Logan Brown, Andrew Dehart and Jarred Ganger.
And in time he’ll realize just how special that is.
BARBEE RECEIVES STATE AWARD
MARCH 10, 2017 – COLUMBUS
Friday was a special evening for Covington High School wrestling coach Tom Barbee as he was recognized at the state wrestling meet as the 2017 Coaches Sportsmanship Award Recipient.
Each year, all 26 of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) sports’ coaches associations and the four allied professional organizations recognize and honor one of their members with an OHSAA Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity (SEI) Award. The recipients are selected by the directors or executive committees of the respective coaches or allied organizations.
The OHSAA Coaches Association selected Barbee as its 2016-17 SEI Award Recipient and he was honored Friday night in front of a packed house at the Jerome Schottenstein Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus.
Barbee’s recognition comes in the final season of a 28-year career as the head wrestling coach at Covington High School where he has compiled 444 career dual wins, which ranked third in the history of high school wrestling in Ohio. He has also coached 39 wrestlers who qualified for state (several multiple times), 11 who placed at state for a combined 21 state medals, and two wrestlers who won a combined three individual state championships. His Buccaneer teams have also won two district titles, five sectional titles and 18 conference championships.
But the award Barbee deservingly received goes way beyond wins and losses on the wrestling mat. It is his love for kids and his ability to use the sport of wrestling to help young men develop into successful adults that has become his legacy.