The good news for city wrestling fans is this: If Free State senior Jack Caywood and Lawrence High freshman Reece Wright-Conklin are forced to face each other in the top half of the 152-pound state tournament bracket this weekend, it will be in the state championship match.
The bad news for both wrestlers, however, is that 152 pounds — as is so often the case — looks like one of the tougher Class 6A brackets in the tournament, which begins at 10 a.m. today and concludes Saturday at Kansas Colisseum in Wichita.
For Caywood, the trip south represents one final chance to slap an exclamation mark on his career at Free State. After yet another injury-plagued season, Caywood enters the tournament with a 16-9 record and a clean bill of health.
“He’s the kind of kid, where if he wrestles and he’s on he can win a state title,” Free State coach Paul Lappin said.
The same can be said for Wright-Conklin, who has exploded onto the scene to become one of the best freshmen wrestlers in Lawrence history.
The one area these two differ the most is experience. Caywood has been there before, many, many times. For Wright-Conklin (23-2), today’s opening match will be his first at state.
“We have done a good job preparing him for the competition,” LHS coach Patrick Naughton said. “We have to remind him and everyone to take it one match at a time. Do not look ahead to the next match until you have finished the first one. Anything can happen and usually does. Reece has a good shot, but he will have to be at the top of his game.”
Caywood and Wright-Conklin will not be alone in Wichita. Caywood will be joined by juniors Spencer Chestnut (189 pounds, 17-12 record) and Ammon Austin (285, 17-9). Both are making their first trip to state.
“It is their first time,” Lappin said. “But we just keep preaching to them that it’s another wrestling tournament, run just like any other meet. They’re the type of kids who can hang in there with just about anybody. They’ve proven that all season.”
Wright-Conklin’s corner will be considerably more crowed as six other LHS wrestlers will make the trip. Included among them are regional champions Blake Greenfield (140, 24-4) and Dustin Walthall (171, 26-12). Joining that trio of regional champs will be Tien Troung (112, 5-12), Chris Lane (119, 16-12), Jake Pfannenstiel (145, 7-5) and Ben Seybert (160, 6-10)
“It is a good group, we are looking to place as many as possible,” Naughton said. “The key to state is winning the first match. Getting past the butterflies and your first opponent can be tough.”