City prep teams will kick off their spring seasons later this month.
Only two, however, will do so carrying the rather daunting title of “defending state champion.”
The Lawrence High baseball and Free State girls swimming and diving teams are coming off state title seasons in 2009, and while coaches from both teams admit that the recent offseasons have been particularly enjoyable, they’re just as quick to insist that last year’s accomplishments will carry little weight heading into this year.
“That state championship isn’t going to do anything for us today,” said Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll, whose team’s victory over Shawnee Mission West in last year’s title game gave the Lions their third state baseball title in school history. “We can’t think that last year’s going to automatically give us 20 wins and let us puff our chests out. There’s a lot of work to do.”
That work officially began Monday, when Kansas high school spring sports teams were allowed to begin practice for the first time.
For Stoll’s Lions, the start of practice represents an opportunity to build upon what is quickly become a dynasty of sorts in the state of Kansas.
In the past three seasons, the Lions have finished third, third and first in the state baseball tournament, meaning they’ve had ample time to get used to having a target on their collective back. And despite the added pressure that comes with sustained success, players, for their part, don’t seem overly concerned about a post-title hangover.
“We know how to win at Lawrence High,” said pitcher Albert Minnis, who in November signed to play baseball at Wichita State next season. “We know how to handle success, so it’s going to be no different this year.”
Added shortstop Landon Mosley of the team’s title, “Now that we know what it feels like, we want it again.”
Across town, Free State’s girls swimmers were kicking off their own “Season After.”
Things have changed a bit since the Firebirds outpaced Olathe Northwest and a slew of other schools for last year’s state crown — the biggest difference, coach Annette McDonald said, being a significant boost in numbers.
Last spring, Free State began the season with approximately 20 swimmers. As of Monday, however, approximately 30 girls had showed up for the start of practice, including several younger swimmers McDonald hopes can have an impact.
What’s more, the Firebirds return eight swimmers who competed at last year’s state meet, which means a similar postseason run this spring isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“Everybody says that, but I’m not thinking about it that way,” said McDonald, asked whether last year’s finish has added any pressure entering the ’10 season. “I’m not nervous, just excited. We’ve already picked out our T-shirts and swimsuits, so we’re ready.”