Wichita By the time he and his Lawrence High teammates had rolled into Wichita for this weekend’s Class 6A state wrestling tournament at Intrust Bank Arena, Reece Wright-Conklin had made a decision.
“I was thinking that I’m going to come out of (the weekend) with two things,” said the sophomore, whose diet has taken a hit over the past few months in an effort to make weight. “A state championship and a full belly.”
The latter will have to wait until today — the team’s wrestlers will celebrate their newfound dietary freedom with back-to-back trips to CiCi’s Pizza Buffet and Jade Mongolian Barbeque in Lawrence — but the first, and more important, was taken care of by 8 p.m. Saturday.
Wright-Conklin put the finishing touches on a near-flawless season by defeating Wichita Heights junior Hunter Jameson, 7-1, in the finals of the 160-pound weight class to become the school’s first individual state wrestling champion since Nolan Kellerman won back-to-back crowns in 2005 and ’06.
After a nerve-wracking Friday night — “I definitely woke up a couple of times and just stared at the ceiling,” he said — Wright-Conklin followed up his three-victory day Friday by jumping to an early lead over Jameson that was never really in jeopardy during a match he described as his best of the season.
“He was really elated,” said LHS coach Pat Naughton, whose team finished ninth overall — eight places better than last season. “I don’t think it’s hit him yet, but he was pretty amazing.”
The same could be said for the team as a whole.
Eight of the 10 wrestlers who competed for Lawrence High at the two-day state tournament won at least one match, and four — Wright-Conklin, 112-pounder Hunter Haralson, 135-pounder Andrew Denning and 171-pounder Dustin Walthall — won two or more.
Haralson, a freshman, nearly earned the Lions a second individual title, finishing second overall after suffering a 5-3 defeat against Hayesville Campus’ Dalton Miller in the 112-pound championship match Saturday, and both Denning and Walthall started the day off with victories before dropping their second matches to miss out on an opportunity for medals.
“Being one of the youngest people in my bracket, I was pretty nervous,” said Haralson, whose goal is to finish his career with three state titles. “I tried to just block it all out and wrestle my style. I didn’t have anything to lose going into the tournament, so I just went out there and tried my hardest.”
Wright-Conklin’s 4-0 finish at the state tournament gave him a 34-2 record for the season, and even the two black marks on an otherwise perfect record — a pair of losses suffered against eventual state champions — he described as a necessary evil in his quest for a state title.
“I probably got a little cocky,” he said of the first loss, which came midway through the season after a long string of victories. “And it put me back in line.”
The overall performance, surely, left Naughton with a happy premonition heading into the 2010-11 season.
Of the 10 LHS wrestlers who competed at the state tournament this weekend, eight — including medalists Wright-Conklin and Haralson — will return next winter, and even as he was still celebrating the encouraging conclusion to his team’s current season, the coach’s mind already had begun to wander toward next year’s state tournament.
“A top-10 finish at state is really, really good,” said Naughton. “We want to be shooting for the top 3, so we got some work ahead of us.
“But we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”