Canal Winchester High School wrestling coach Trent Brooks started calling Max Lacey "Mr. Clutch" a few years ago because of his ability to win close matches.
The senior lived up to his nickname while competing in the Division I district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby, as he went 4-2 and placed fourth at 220 pounds to qualify for state for the first time.
The top four placers in each weight class advanced to the state tournament, which runs Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 2, at Ohio State.
Needing to win in a consolation semifinal to advance to state, Lacey faced a familiar foe in Olentangy freshman Chris Crumb.
Lacey had lost to Crumb 18-10 in the final at sectional Feb. 16 at Watkins Memorial and fell behind 8-0 in the rematch, but he battled back with a series of takedowns in the second and third periods and took a 13-12 lead with 40 seconds left. He held on to win the match by that score.
"My coaches have called me 'Mr. Clutch' because I seem to be able to pull close matches out at the end, and I definitely earned my nickname (at district)," Lacey said. "I was definitely concerned when I was down 8-0, but I have goal sheets all over my house reminding me to never quit, and I just kept coming at him until I was able to beat him. I'm really proud that I've earned my spot for state."
Lacey opened district with a 13-4 win over Olentangy Liberty's Mitch Deruy before losing to Marysville's Morgan Miller 6-3 in the second round. He bounced back to pin Westerville South's Adam Thesing in 3:17 and pin Hilliard Bradley's Fraser Smith in 2:34 before beating Crumb.
Lacey was pinned by Westerville North's Andy Struttman in :28 in the third-place match and heads into state with a 49-4 record.
"I feel like I peaked at the right time and wrestled well at district," he said. "I scored well from my feet."
Lacey believes he is capable of winning the state championship if he wrestles to his potential.
"My ultimate goal is to be a state champion and I lost a close match to the district champion (Miller), so I'm right there with the best of them in my weight class," he said. "My strengths are my cardio and my shots. I've got to keep shooting until I wear my opponents down and beat them."
The Indians' only other district competitor was sophomore Nick Hammond, who went 1-2 at 145 to finish 45-9. He lost to Westerville South's Caleb Llaneza 12-6 in his opening match before pinning Gahanna's Jordan Sprunger in 3:44. He then was pinned by Worthington Kilbourne's Kyle Wahl in 4:41.
"This was my first time wrestling at district and there was a lot more competition here," Hammond said. "All of my matches were close until I ran out of breath and couldn't do much. I had a pretty good season overall and I'm looking forward to wrestling here again in the future."
The Indians scored 20 points at district to place 28th behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored.
Boys basketball team falls in tourney opener
The boys basketball team lost to host Dresden Tri-Valley 57-50 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23 to finish 10-13.
Canal Winchester, which was seeded 29th of 42 teams, led 13-10 after the first quarter. The game was tied at 22 at halftime and 23rd-seeded Tri-Valley outscored the Indians 14-13 in the third quarter and 21-15 in the fourth.
Wing player Seth McCoy had 15 points to lead the Indians. Point guard Thomas Nolan and forward Skyler Scott added 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Center Avery Williams had 20 points to lead Tri-Valley, which improved to 16-7 and advanced to play third-seeded Liberty in the second round Feb. 27.