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ALBRIGHT: Patriots’ wrestler Samantha Miller looking to place at the state tournament

When Parkersburg South’s 106-pound wrestler Samantha Miller locks up with Riverside’s Josh Slack Thursday in the opening round of the state tournament, she stands two wins away from another historic moment after becoming the Patriots’ first female state qualifier.

Consecutive victories in her opening matches puts her on the podium as the school’s first female state placer.

While she is matched up against the Class AAA Region III champion, Miller’s rocky start of being pinned nine times in her first 10 varsity matches in the Patriots’ Club summer session is far in the rearview mirror.

One need only look at her improvement as the campaign went along for what she can do.

Losses continued to mount at the beginning of the school season as she consistently faced boys in every match but she learned to fight and not give up.

She’s losing a lot less now then she did back in early December.

“You have to go through your worst phases to get to your best,” she said on her early season struggles.

It was this understanding helping fuel her climb.

Signs of improvement shone through in some of her biggest matches.

She beat Parkersburg High’s George Cantwell 9-8 in the first matchup then pinned him to advance to the state tournament three weeks later. She also made it an entire match in a major decision loss to Huntington’s Jaishawn Lyles in the regional consolation bout after being pinned in 3:38 on Dec. 13 at a Spring Valley tri.

Lyles may have beaten her decisively, but a major decision is better than a pin anyday of the week.

The lessons she experienced in a season of learning will be displayed fully as she attempts a run to the state championship. Four wins stand between her and a sweet plaque.

There may be a little shock in her eyes as the match begins inside Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena. Honestly, she did not expect to be in this position. Not a lot of people expected her to be in this position actually. “Not” was a word she heard plenty this season outside of her own team.

She was NOT expected to win.

She was NOT expected to qualify for the state tournament.

She was NOT expected to start for the Patriots.

She did NOT expect too do much of anything at the beginning of the season.

The word weighed on her as the pressure pushed her down early on.

“At first, I thought I was never going to be as good as the boys on my team but I was pushed in practice and my coaches believed in me so I started believing in myself,” said Miller. “I thought if I let my team down I might get replaced next year and had to show them I was just as good as the boys. I have pushed myself way harder with the success I have had toward the end of the season.”

In a funny twist, the state coaches have her ranked above Slack in their weekly rankings on wvmat.com. They believe in the hardwork she has put in.

“Sometimes I would rather be the underdog,” she said.

South head coach Shaun Smith certainly doesn’t believe she is an underdog. Smith’s message to her this week has been consistent and steadying.

“I have explained to her if anyone has zero pressure on them it should be her,” said Smith. “It is pretty phenomenal what she has done and whatever happens this weekend she shouldn’t be anything but proud of herself. We are proud of her.”

Oh and about this weekend …. She is NOT expected to place, but she certainly has a puncher’s chance.

“I think it makes me do better if someone says I am not going to do well,” she said. “I am ready to prove them wrong anyway.”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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