Much was made this offseason about the luxury afforded to the city’s high school wrestling programs when ninth-graders were allowed to move up to wrestle at both Lawrence High and Free State.
Tonight, when the Lions welcome the Firebirds to 19th and Louisiana at 6:30 for the annual city showdown dual, several of those freshmen will factor into the outcome.
In the past, freshmen were able to join the varsity and junior-varsity squads at the high schools only after their junior-high seasons had ended. This year, the freshmen have been competing with their corresponding high schools from the start. Although that hasn’t led to an abundance of success, both coaches say having the freshmen in tow from the beginning has helped tremendously.
“I think the biggest thing is that we haven’t noticed it,” Free State coach Paul Lappin said. “In the past, when the freshmen would come up, we kind of had to start from scratch and re-teach everything all over again. This year, we haven’t had to do that, which has been very helpful.”
Lappin said several freshmen have become a part of the Free State program, with two of them contributing mightily to the varsity squad throughout the season.
Drew Botello, at 103 pounds, and Ben Soukup, at 119, have both scored several points for the Firebirds this season. They’ll both be asked to deliver well beyond their years tonight when they face a deep and talented LHS squad.
“We’re just going to go over there and wrestle,” Lappin said. “This is by far our toughest week of competition, and we’re hoping to start it off on a good note by competing hard against LHS.”
Lawrence High coach Pat Naughton also has enjoyed big-time contributions from a few of his freshmen. Leading the charge for the Lions’ youngest troops is Hunter Haralson, who was ranked fourth at 112 pounds in Class 6A last week. Though his record (16-8) might not suggest such a lofty ranking, Naughton pointed out that all of Haralson’s losses this season have come to wrestlers who earned medals at state in 2009.
In addition, freshmen Andrew Denning (135 pounds) and Spencer Wilson (160) also have logged meaningful matches for the LHS varsity.
“All three of those guys are year-round wrestlers who have a lot of experience in the sport,” Naughton said.
The Lions enter tonight’s dual on the heels of an eighth-place finish at the Blue Valley Northwest tournament last weekend. Free State competed last weekend at the Paola Invitational.