Rice takes the reigns at Miami

Andrew Rice is a head coach for the first time. And he’s getting that shot at Miami.
Rice was named Miami’s new head coach at a special board meeting on Friday morning.
“Words can’t express how excited I am,” Rice said. “A lot of people have invested a lot of time in me as a coach and person so hopefully I can make them proud. I’m also just thankful that (Miami superintendent) Mr. (Jeremy) Hogan is taking a chance on me
Rice, 27, takes over after serving as Bartlesville’s offensive coordinator for the past two seasons. In 2015, the Bruins put up 421 points in a 12-game season, a campaign that ended in the Class 6AII semifinals. That Bartlesville team had the offensive exploits of quarterback Colton Penrod (3,294 passing yards and 42 touchdowns), Jarron Hilger (1,028 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns), A.J. Archambo (1,031 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns and A.J. Parker (781 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns).
Without Penrod, Hilger and Parker in 2016, Archabmo starred again under Rice, and wide receivers coach Justin Gordon, with 66 catches for 1,143 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Prior to coaching at Bartlesville, Rice was at Bixby for a season and then Sand Springs for two.
Now he’s ready to voyage into his own head-coaching tenure.
“It being the first head job will always be special,” Rice said. “When you add that to the type of place Miami is, it makes it such a great opportunity. It is like a sleeping giant with the kids there and support from the community. That part makes it so much better and exciting.”
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Rice takes over for James Cheatham, who was 11-29 in four seasons at the helm for the Wardogs.
Last season, Miami went 1-9 overall and 1-6 in District 4A-3, which featured the 4A champion (Wagoner) and 4A runner-up (Oologah).
“Our expectations are going to be high,” Rice said. “We want to make sure that in everything we do we’re improving constantly. We’re going to make sure we roll up our sleeves and attack the weight room, and carry that over to playing fast and physical on the field.”
As for what he’s learned along the way to groom his for this position, Rice pointed to the mentorship he had under Bartlesville head coach John McKee.
“Coach McKee really did a great job giving me opportunities to do things that a head coach is required to do,” Rice said. “The things that worked at Bartlesville will be the same things I try to bring to Miami, and that’s building relationships and getting after it in the weight room.”

Taywone McNack and the resurgence of McLain wrestling

Taywone McNack is going to abstain from barbeque — but only until Sunday.

McNack, a McLain senior fresh off a regional championship, is headed back the Class 4A state wrestling tournament this weekend. Last year, McNack suffered a 3-2 decision loss to Harrah’s Braden Visnieski, and McNack then fell short of the consolation finals with a 18-6 major decision loss to Cleveland’s Tyler West.

So, how will McNack approach this year’s state tournament differently?

“It is funny that you asked,” he said, “but don’t eat a slab of ribs the day before the tournament, but instead come in on weight.”

The resistance will be tough, but it could pave the way to a better outcome this season for McNack, who is matched up against Cascia Hall’s D.J. Anderson in the opening round of the 120-pound weight class.

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And when it comes to momentum, McNack has a boatload of it headed with him to Oklahoma City.

Last weekend, McNack scored a 10-6 victory over Cleveland’s Blake Hickerson to claim a regional championship. Not too shabby for a wrestler who only truly invested into the sport a few years ago.

“It is only my third year of wrestling,” said McNack, who is 34-6 this season. “And that is a big accomplishment.”

In fact, McNack’s regional supremacy is only the second time this season he’s won a tournament. He had posted third-place finishes at tournaments in Cushing, Catoosa and Bishop Kelley, while topping the field at the Skiatook field this year.

“I shot for first at every one, but things did not always go my way,” McNack said of previous outcomes this season. “It was special winning Skiatook, because that was my first tournament to be champion since I started wrestling my sophomore year. Adding on the regional title was very special to me, because I worked very hard and feel like I deserved it.”

McNack’s performance has also provided a spotlight to a program that had gone virtually noticed until McNack, Jelani Lewis (22) and Hollis Tuggle (in the heavyweight class) qualified for last year’s state tournament. But if you ask McLain coach J. Paul Ganzel, it’s all been part of the plan.

“When I was hired as head wrestling coach, our (athletic director’s) three-year goals were: qualify a wrestler to the state tournament and win a dual,” Ganzel recalled. “On year one, we only had four wrestlers in the room and won only one match in our single dual and the regional tournament.”

But then McLain made vast improvements — and in short order, too.

“Year two we inspired more interest in the sport from the students, meaning more numbers in the room, and we won four duals, as well as qualifying Jelani Lewis to the state tournament,” Ganzel said. “Last year, year three, we entered several dual tournaments with the goal of getting as much individual experience as possible, and this turned into 11 dual wins as well as qualifying three to state.”

The foundation has been cemented by McNack and Tuggle, and Ganzel said that’ll push other McLain wrestlers that much harder next year.

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“I expect the success of the two will motivate the others in the room next year,” he said. “It will encourage them to jump on board with the hard work it takes to become a champion, and in turn we will within a few short years be in contention for both the state and dual state titles, respectfully.”

For Ganzel, though, the journey with McNack and Tuggle throughout their wrestling careers has trumped all else.

“Being a part of these two boy’s journey into manhood has been one of the most rewarding things in my life,” Ganzel said. “The adversity they have overcome and the positive character changes they have implemented would make a best-selling movie, if the whole story be told. Both Taywone and Hollis have a more than legitimate chance of becoming state champions, and I look forward to seeing how high they climb in the ladder of life after wrestling.”

Grading the Golden Eagles – North Dakota State edition

It comes as no surprise that Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton has had plenty of restless nights the past two months. An 0-3 start on the road in Summit League play segued to what ended up being a 3-5 campaign at the Mabee Center in conference games.

In the end, the Golden Eagles wrapped up their 2016-2017 season on Wednesday with an 82-80 loss to North Dakota State, and that cemented ORU’s final record of 8-22 overall and 4-12 in league play. Needless to say, this season offered plenty of long, sleepless nights for Sutton.

“I haven’t slept very well over the last two months,” Sutton said after Wednesday’s game and hours before he was to catch a 6 a.m. flight to go recruit. “I’ll likely get a couple hours of sleep (before the flight), but it’ll be all right.”

Outside of home victories over Little Rock, Richmond (maybe the best win of the year), South Dakota State, Omaha and South Dakota, there was little revel in this year for the Golden Eagles. And Wednesday night offered much of the same script for ORU: Play decently enough to win but watch as the opponent becomes opportunistic and cashes in on crucial plays.

For the final time, I’ll pass out some grades from the season’s final game. And in the coming days, I’ll pass out overall season grades.

So let’s get to it…

– Vegas oddsmakers: A+ —Somehow the oddsmakers just knew ORU’s Isaac Gilliam would knock down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the game. The Bison owned an 82-77 lead before Gilliam closed out the Golden Eagles’ season with a long trey.

That meant the oddsmakers hit the game’s final spread right on the nose: North Dakota State by two. And sure enough, that’s what happened.

If people bet on the Bison to cover the spread, they had to be absolutely furious with how the final seven seconds played out (Gilliam receives the inbounds pass, North Dakota State players back way off and Gilliam buries a long 3-pointer between the top of the key and right wing).

– Albert Owens: B+ — In the process of becoming one of the best inside scorers in the Summit League, Owens recorded his 14th 20-point game of the season. He finished with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting.

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ORU’s Albert Owens (44) had 23 points and nine rebounds against North Dakota State on Wednesday.

Owens, for the fifth time in his career, matched a career high with nine rebounds. I’d bet money he has at least one game of 10 rebounds next season.

Owens finished just shy of an “A” because his shot attempt to tie the game at 79 with 45 seconds left  was blocked by North Dakota State’s Dexter Werner, who made a solid play on the ball.

But after Werner got the best of Owens in Fargo in January, Owens responded with a  solid game to close the season out.

– Rebounding: D — Look, North Dakota State is not a great rebounding team. The Bison are barely on the plus side when it comes to rebounding margin this year (0.2). But North Dakota State out-rebounded ORU 45-35, and that just can’t happen.

Where ORU probably got lucky was that North Dakota State only had 7 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.

– Kris Martin: C- — Martin had things rolling through the month of January, and you could see him becoming one of the better scorers in the league. But a scoreless effort against Fort Wayne on Jan. 28 sent him sputtering toward the finish line.

Martin had 3 points on 1 of 6 shooting against North Dakota State, so in his final three games of the season he had a combined 17 points.

I fully expect Martin to be an offensive force for the Golden Eagles during his junior campaign next year.

– Aaron Young/Aaron Anderson/Jalen Bradley/Darian Harris/Isaac Gilliam: B — Solid outing from the seniors (and Harris, a junior) on their way out. You have to feel for Harris, who has labored through knee issues for months now; I’m sure that hasn’t been easy.

Young, Anderson and Bradley all scored in double figures for their final games, but I’m sure they would have traded those efforts for a win.

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Isaac Gilliam (12), Aaron Young (0), Aaron Anderson (13), Darian Harris (33) and Jalen Bradley (10) were recognized following the game.

– Mabee Center: D- — This isn’t on the promotional staff, because I loved a lot of what they did this year, and I even lauded them after one of the earlier conference games.

This falls squarely on the people who run the Mabee Center … what in the world happened on Wednesday? The intro music was full of old-school Jock Jams (not terrible, but not the same as it’s been all year). And the sound system was a complete debacle, with a floor speaker, I’m guessing, being utilized as the only way to hear public address announcer Mike Canada. It was a fiasco.

And the pregame fireworks haven’t been a problem all year, that I’ve noticed. But the ones on Wednesday seemed to offer a fog that hung over the Mabee Center floor for a lot of the first half.

Just a complete mess.

Up next: The offseason. Thanks for reading along this season. Be on the lookout for final season grades before too long.

Corbin hired as Choctaw’s head coach, athletic director

Jake Corbin is now the new head football coach at Choctaw after a special board meeting on Thursday afternoon. It’ll be Corbin’s third stop as a varsity head coach.

But it’s what he has learned in his prior two stops at Sapulpa and Del City that speaks volumes.

“I’ve learned that kids everywhere need men in their lives,” Corbin said. “As men, we’ve done a terrible job of that. We hope that the current generation will do a better job than ours.”

That’s a pretty powerful statement, one that trumps just about anything else Corbin could say about being hired to lead the Yellowjackets.

At Del City in 2016, Corbin led the Eagles to a 6-5 record and a playoff berth that ended with a first-round loss to Bishop McGuinness. For Corbin, delivering his departure message to his players on Thursday was difficult.

“It’s extremely difficult to leave Del City. I love my kids here. I’ve formed lifelong bonds with these kids and they are champions,” said Corbin, who has also served assistant roles at Union, Del City and Broken Arrow. “The next coach is going to walk into a gold mine of extremely talented and terrific, high-character young men.”

Now he takes over the position that Todd Dilbeck vacated. Dilbeck left Choctaw to become an assistant director for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.

“The community support is out of this world and the facilities are top notch,” Corbin said of Choctaw. “The district has made a commitment to providing the best environment possible for students. Coach Dilbeck and his staff have done a wonderful job, and I believe the recipe is already there.”

It certainly is, based on the Yellowjackets being on the verge of a Class 6AII title contender in 2016 despite not making the playoffs. Choctaw went 5-5 but all five setbacks were by seven points or less.

“It’s limitless,” Corbin said of Choctaw’s potential. “The ingredients are there: great town to live in, high academics, community support, facilities, talent. Now, combine that with a committed administration and I believe it is a top-tier program.”

Grading the Golden Eagles — Western Illinois edition

Nothing about the game was prestigious, but it was important all the same. It was Oral Roberts and Western Illinois essentially going toe to toe for the eighth spot in the Summit League standings.

Didn’t exactly scream national game of the week — and it certainly didn’t attract any local media glances outside of myself and the Oracle’s Russell Dorsey. (PS, been that way all year, so why change now?)

Anyway, it became the same old song and dance for ORU: Golden Eagles flounder around for the majority of the game, make a last-ditch effort at a comeback, ultimately come up short.

Final score: Western Illinois 63, ORU 60 in a game that was projected as an ORU victory by KenPom.com and an eight-point win for the Golden Eagles in Vegas. Now, though, ORU will be an underdog in the remaining four games of the regular season, and the Golden Eagles are staring down the barrel of a campaign that ends without a berth into the Summit League Tournament.

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That’s what made Wednesday’s game so important. But if ORU — and others in attendance— knew that, it sure didn’t play out like it. The Golden Eagles failed to play desperate basketball for 40 minutes, and coach Scott Sutton took notice afterward.

“Just a little bit flat, I’m not sure why,” he said. “Maybe it was because offensively we couldn’t get it going. It just seemed like we didn’t have the energy until about 5 1/2 minutes left, and then guys finally started playing desperate.”

I followed with, “how come there is no desperation from the very beginning with this team?”

Sutton’s rebuttal: “I don’t know. We talked about that in the locker room. …We’ve put up on the board several times, ‘you have to play desperate and with a sense of urgency.’ I just don’t know. It’s frustrating and I don’t have the answers.”

This is where I’d take time to hand out some grades, but being swept in a season by Western Illinois for the first time in ORU’s program history, you can assume not many would be high. Instead, I’ll outline the postgame discussion among Sutton, Dorsey and myself in the media room.

Losing a three-point game against Western Illinois featured ORU again not making plays down the stretch. That prompted me to ask Sutton, “what’s lacking from this team in terms of getting over the hump with five or six minutes left in a game?”

Sutton’s response slimmed down to one word: “Confidence.”

Along the way, Sutton mentioned ORU’s offensive stagnation against Western Illinois. The Golden Eagles made only 35.4 percent (23 of 65) of their field goals. ORU also couldn’t bury a 3-pointer, going 7 of 26 from beyond the 3-point arc. The 7 of 10 foul shooting was OK, but the Golden Eagles didn’t earn enough trips to the stripe.

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One thing that was guaranteed to happen against Western Illinois was that the Leathernecks’ Garret Covington was going to try and put his team on his back. He did that in the second half, and to his credit, he made some tough shots while ORU played solid defense on him. Covington finished with a game-high 20 points, but ORU made him take 17 field goal attempts, of which he made seven.

Beyond that, nothing glaring grabs your attention from that game. Just a bad home loss for ORU, its third straight under the Mabee Center roof.

Wilkinson steps down as Deer Creek’s head coach

Jay Wilkinson, after one season as Deer Creek’s head coach, has stepped down from that position. The move became official Friday, Wilkinson said.

The former Coweta head coach, Wilkinson went 2-8 in his lone season as the Antlers’ head coach. At Coweta, Wilkinson went 12-10 over two seasons with a playoff berth in both years.

Wilkinson had taken over the head-coaching vacancy at Deer Creek, which was left by Grant Gower when he joined the Oklahoma Baptist University staff.

Prior to Coweta, Wilkinson served as Broken Arrow’s offensive coordinator after being the head coach at Metro Christian during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.