• Get info on all the city wrestlers participating this weekend here
Of all the obstacles awaiting his team at this weekend’s 6A state wrestling tournament in Wichita — powerhouses Derby and Goddard, for instance — the thing that seems to be garnering most of Lawrence High coach Pat Naughton’s concern is his team’s response to the nerves that inevitably come with performing on such a lavish stage.
“That grand march, when everybody walks into the (arena) for the first time, that’s where you get the first set of butterflies,” said Naughton, whose team will begin first-round action at 10 a.m. today.
In anticipation of those nerves, however, Naughton set out last off-season to put together a regular-season schedule that would replicate the grind of the state tournament. Two-day tournaments. Hotel stays. Things that would lead to a more comfortable stay when the team ultimately arrived in Wichita in February.
“That’s what I geared it up for,” Naughton said. “ ... That whole routine makes it easier. They know what to expect.”
Of course, if things go like they have been for the Lions, Naughton, who was named regional coach of the year last week, has little reason to worry.
During last week’s regional meet, Lawrence High shrugged off any potential nerves to turn in about as good a performance as Naughton could have hoped, earning four individual victories — Hunter Haralson (112 pounds), Andrew Denning (135), Reece Wright-Conklin (160) and Dustin Walthall (171) — and qualifying 10 wrestlers for the state meet en route to the team’s first regional title since 2007.
The 10 Lions wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament are the most since 2006, and three more than last season’s total, when LHS finished 17th overall in Class 6A.
“There’s some matches we won just because of our fitness,” said Levi Flohrschutz, a junior who finished second in the 140-pound weight class last weekend. “As a team, we’ve been pretty all right at (being well-prepared physically), but we really showed it last weekend.”
Added senior Braxton Vardys (145), “Everyone went out and wrestled hard.”
Free State senior Ammon Austin will be the Firebirds’ lone competitor, meanwhile, after a rough regional in which a number of the team’s wrestlers narrowly missed opportunities to advance to this weekend’s state meet.
Austin, however, will look to build upon his performance in last year’s state tournament.
“He was 2-2 last year — one match away from placing — so I think if he doesn’t come back with a medal, it will be a disappointment for him,” said Free State coach Paul Lappin.