Adding support to the notion that anytime Lawrence High and Free State get together the city’s high school athletes turn things up a notch, the LHS wrestling team topped Free State, 51-21, in a dual in which seven of the 12 matches that took place were decided by pins.
“This means something for the students and the community,” LHS coach Pat Naughton said. “We try to look at each dual as different, but it’s always nice to beat your rival especially in your hometown.”
Despite losing the first and last matches of the night, the Lions dominated in the middle, winning six straight after dropping the opening match.
Tien Truong (112), Chris Lane (119), Macon Ezell (125), Adam Ramos (130) and Levi Flohrschutz (135) all won in convincing fashion with all except Flohrschutz winning by pin. Flohrschutz’s victory was nearly as impressive. He defeated Free State’s Jake Brown, 11-0.
Next, Blake Greenfield was credited with a victory at 140 pounds without breaking a sweat. Free State did not have a 140-pound wrestler, thus giving Greenfield the free victory.
At that point, Free State sophomore Cody Oller broke the streak by pinning Keenan Wycoff in the 145-pound match.
“I was just trying to focus on my matches and trying to focus on helping the team,” Oller said. “But they kind of mixed it up on me and introduced three guys I could’ve wrestled.”
The mix-up occurred because of a strategic move on Naughton’s part. Knowing that the Firebirds were stacked in the higher weight classes, Naughton juggled his lineup in order to push some of his more talented wrestlers to the higher weight classes.
“We knew the end of their lineup was pretty tough and had to do something to get our middle guys closer to the end,” Naughton said. “The 112- and 125-pound matches were key tonight and we ended up getting pins, which helped us at the end.”
Also helping out was freshman Reese Wright-Conklin, who squared off with Free State senior Jack Caywood in the 152-pound match. The showdown was viewed by many in the building as the marquee matchup of the night and the two wrestlers did not disappoint.
In a fast-paced first period, Caywood took leads of 2-0 and 4-2 on reversals. After each one, Wright-Conklin responded almost immediately to tie the score. A near-fall near the end of the first gave the LHS freshman a 6-4 lead and he never trailed again, extending the lead to 11-6 after two periods and holding on for a 13-7 victory.
“As a freshman, it’s just fun to be on varsity,” Wright-Conklin said. “But going against Free State, knowing that your school is counting on you, just put a fire in my belly. Then, to wrestle a guy like him and to come out with a win, it can’t get much better than that.”
Caywood, who missed the last week-and-a-half with a concussion and missed a couple of weeks before that with a broken hand, said the loss did not disrupt his spirits.
“I’m not in the best condition right now,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter anyway. All that matters is how you finish the season.”
For the Firebirds, finishing the dual mattered a little. After losing 10 of 11 matches after Kamp Wiebe’s victory in the 103-pound match to open the night, the Firebirds picked up victories in two of the last three matches, with Julian Kuszmaul picking up an open win at 215 pounds and Joey Cunningham roaring past Brad Wilson, 21-10, in the heavyweight match.
“Some of those guys really stepped up and did what they needed to do to win,” Free State coach Paul Lappin said.
Still, the night belonged to the Lions.
Jake Pfannenstiel (160), Benjamin Seybert (171) and Dustin Walthall (189) followed Wright-Conklin’s victory with wins of their own, making the final few matches insignificant in terms of the outcome of the dual.
“We kind of expected to win, but to do it was still amazing,” Lane said.