By Rob Kiser
COVINGTON — Lance Miller is headed to Columbus with a purpose this week.
And Covington’s senior 160-pounder hopes that will lead to a spot high on the podium at the Division III state wrestling championships at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
Miller, the Troy D-III district champion and 44-4 on the season, will open his quest Thursday against Bailey Blair of Smithville, 39-7 and a fourth place finisher at the Garfield Heights district tournament.
“I don’t think you ever want your goal to be to get to state,” Miller said. “I think your goal needs to be to be a state placer, make finals, win state or whatever it might be. You don’t want to be happy just to be over there.”
And Miller says that from experience.
As a sophomore he was a state qualifier and last year, he watched the state tournament as an alternate after being slowed by an injury.
“I think I was one of those guys that was happy to just be there (as a sophomore),” Miller said. “Definitely, there is a different expectation level this year.”
Covington coach Tom Barbee said Miller is hitting his peak headed to state.
“Last year, he had a nagging hip injury,” Barbee said. “So far this year, everything has gone really well. Lance (Miller) has had a great season and done everything he needs to do. He has really come on the last three of four weeks and is right where he needs to be.”
Miller said he will draw on his past experience at state — but maybe, in a different way than you might expect.
“I learned from the other guys on our team I was over there with (two years ago),” Miller said. “I could see how they went about things over there. How you had to go about things and prepare yourself to be successful (at state).”
Miller is like any other wrestler.
He has seen his bracket — but, he is not about to be consumed with it either.
“I am not going to lie to you — I looked at the bracket,” Miller said. “I know I could wrestle the projected state champion (Josh Doherty of West Jefferson, who is 46-2 and was state runnerup last year). in the second round. But, if your goals are to place high, you are going to have to wrestle them sometime. It doesn’t make any difference if it is your second match or your fourth match.”
And Miller, like Barbee, feels like this season has gone about as well as he could have hoped.
“I lost a couple matches at the Holiday where I wrestled up a weight class,” Miller said. “Other than that, it has gone the way I hoped. I think being district champion is a good thing, because there are only four of us (in each weight class).”
And while Barbee knows that, he knows that doesn’t make things any easier this week.
“Lance won a big tournament at Lima and he has been wrestling really well,” Barbee said. “But, they don’t give you any points at state for being a district champion, so you better be ready to wrestle.”
And Miller is.
“Really, my goal right now is to make state finals,” he said. “That is the goal.”
And that won’t surprise Barbee if he does — and adds his poster to the wall in the Covington wrestling room of state placers.
“It is his senior year,” Barbee said. “So, there is no reason to hold anything back. He can add his photo to the wall and we will have to look at him forever.”
Because, he is headed to Columbus with a purpose.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.