Wichita Third time's the charm?
Free State High's Justin Stevens only wishes his task today at the Kansas Coliseum would be that simple.
Instead, the Firebirds' senior wrestler will face the only opponent to have beaten him this season Â the same guy who knocked him unconscious two weeks ago, splitting open Stevens' head and sending him out of the Sunflower League meet on a stretcher: Olathe South's Justin Dyer.
"I'm real pumped," Stevens said about meeting his nemesis in the championship match of the 189-pound weight class at the Class 6A state meet.
Stevens will need to be pumped. Dyer, the brother of Kansas University quarterback Zach Dyer, is undefeated this season Â 38-0. The Oklahoma signee has won his last 92 matches and had no trouble Friday, as he beat two opponents by a combined score of 32-5 and also had a quick pin.
For Stevens, getting to today's final was a challenge. He had to fight his way in, winning his first-round match by only a point. Stevens found a little more success in his second bout before narrowly escaping Friday's semifinal with an overtime escape of Topeka's Russell Washington, 4-3.
"It's going to be a big-time match," said FSHS coach Darrell Andrew. "Justin has a lot of respect for Dyer, and hopefully he'll be able to stay in there and have a third period chance to win it."
Leading up to Friday's semifinal round, it looked like the Firebirds would have two more wrestlers joining Stevens in today's parade of champions, the prequel to tonight's championship matches.
However, Kyle Franks suffered a lopsided loss in his semifinal only minutes before four-time state qualifier Ian Brk suffered a 9-7 loss to Hutchinson's Zach Hemmerling.
"It's obviously a huge disappointment for Ian," Andrew said. "But I know him and he's going to come out and wrestle with all his heart and helps us get back-door points today."
If the Firebirds, who had four of their seven qualifiers make it out of the first round, do go through the kitchen door and find a way to score points, they still may have a shot at a top-10 finish.
After Friday, Free State sat in 12th place with 38.5 points, while Wichita Campus was a half point in front of Derby for the Class 6A lead.
Friday wasn't as kind for Lawrence High's three qualifiers.
Only one, Kenny Poeverlein II, made it through the first round unscathed before losing 6-2 to Derby's Joe Niederre.
"We had a few good matches and also a couple of disappointing ones," LHS coach Jeff Tummons said. "We're just going to keep fighting today and take it one match at a time. It's still a learning experience."
Lawrence's lone regional champ, Chris Hultine lost 6-5 to Campus' Jeremy Wille in his 135-pound opener.
Hultine was then eliminated in Friday's first consolation round. Meanwhile, Aaron Madill fell to Derby's Matt Wintz 7-3 in the 160-pound class, but went on to win his consolation match 5-4 over Shawnee Mission South's Nathan Hartshoome.
Stevens' semifinal contest was a shootout, in the true wrestling since of the word. He and Washington had several powerful attacks that pushed them both out of bounds. Once they knocked down a towel boy, yet on another occasion the matches' referee had to go leaping out of the way.
But in the end, it came down to Stevens breaking loose of Washington's grip and escaping for the victory.
"Once I knew I had won the flip, I felt pretty good about my chances of escaping," Stevens said.
Stevens did, but Brk wasn't so lucky.
Last year's runner-up led the majority of the match and still had a 6-5 advantage in the third.
But Hemmerling, Class 6A's No. 2-ranked wrestler, scored an escape and followed that with a takedown with a little over 30 seconds remaining. Brk desperately attempted to score, but time ran out.
"That match takes nothing away from Brk," Stevens said. "He had a great match and lost to a good opponent in the final seconds."
Stevens hopes he can find himself in a similar tight match, exciting the crowd. But only if he comes out on top.
"Yeah, definitely," Stevens said. "That would definitely be the way to end it."