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High School wrestling: Competition paying off for Covington

Sophomore state placer Cael Vanderhorst (25-3) is ranked No. 6in the state at 113.
Sophomore state placer Cael Vanderhorst (25-3) is ranked No. 6in the state at 113.

Winning 15 of 18 dual meets and a strong showing at the GMVWA holiday tournament has made the Covington Buccaneers a marked team.

The Buccs are hoping to keep that target on their back all the way to the state tournament. Heading into this week the Buccs had six wrestlers ranked among the top 20 in the state rankings, compiled by the website The team is ranked No. 9.

“I think we can put the majority of our lineup at districts,” said 132-pounder Riley Richards (21-10), one of four seniors on the team. “Close to half of our lineup, in my opinion, has the talent to be state qualifiers and maybe have a couple champions. If everyone brings what they need to in the postseason we should have a decent postseason.”

The regular season is going pretty well, too.

»RELATED: Tuesday’s high school roundup

Covington started the season winning the Northeastern dual meet and finished second at the Versailles dual meet despite missing six starters. They finished second at the Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association holiday tournament, trailing only D-II state power Graham. The Buccs followed that up by winning the Troy Invitational.

“I think having the competition we have builds us up for a better performance,” said senior 182-pounder Gavin McReynolds (22-5). “Having that competition allows us to wrestle better.”

That goes for the talent in the wrestling room, too. Among them, sophomore state placer Kellan Anderson (28-0) is ranked No. 1 in the state at 106. Sophomore state placer Cael Vanderhorst (25-3) is No. 6 at 113. Junior Austin Flick is 26-4 at 138. Senior state qualifier Keringten Martin (28-1) is No. 6 at 152. Sophomore Duncan Cooper (16-5) is No. 16 at 170. And junior state qualifier Gage Kerrigan is No. 15 at 195.

»RELATED: Tuesday’s high school scoreboard

Senior 160-pounder Dylan Burns (16-6) joined the Buccs this season after transferring from Arcanum. It didn’t take long to notice a difference between the two programs, no slight intended.

“There’s a lot more competition. A lot more kids,” said Burns, who said he often had to wrestle a 132-pounder or heavyweight in practice. “I went from having seven kids in the room to like 27. … It’s been great.”

The Buccs have had 13 different wrestlers in program history place at state. Coach Eric Vanderhorst is among the Buccs that have qualified for state, going in 1991 and 1992.

“He knows what it takes to work hard and get there. He’s one of the smartest guys I know when it comes to wrestling,” Martin said. “If I’m on the mat and I don’t know something, he always tells me exactly what I need to do. Great coaching.”

Teamwork is just as plentiful as talent with the Buccs, even going back to Martin’s freshman season. One of Richards’ favorite wrestling memories is winning his varsity letter as a freshman. He was having trouble beating a senior in practice to claim the spot at 125, so Martin often volunteered to move up so Richards could wrestle at 132.

“That was pretty cool of him,” said Richards, who will end his career as a four-time varsity wrestler. “There was no reason he had to do that. He was just being nice to me.”

Added Martin: “I go wherever I feel is best for the team. … I’m all about the team. I want the team to succeed. Wrestling is an individual sport but it’s just as much of a team sport.

“Nothing is as fun to me than being on the side of the mat cheering my teammates on. Everyone gets involved. Nothing beats that moment when you’re cheering your teammate on. You don’t care about anything else. That’s the moment and it’s the best feeling ever.”