From the start, Lawrence High wrestler Reece Wright-Conklin’s sophomore season was pointed toward one thing.
Following a promising freshman campaign, in which he’d marched to a fifth-place finish in the Class 6A state tournament, the logical next step was a state title, and that was what the wrestler set out to obtain in 2009-10.
“Our goal was for him to win it, period,” LHS coach Pat Naughton said. “And I think any less than that would have been a disappointment.”
Consider the disappointment averted.
In finishing with a 34-2 overall record, Wright-Conklin rolled to one of the most successful seasons in recent area history, picking up a Sunflower League title, regional title and Class 6A 160-pound state title, becoming the first LHS wrestler to win an individual state title since Nolan Kellerman won back-to-back crowns in 2005 and ’06.
For his efforts, he has been named the Journal-World’s wrestler of the year.
“I guess the end of my freshman year, I really thought that my sophomore year could be my first year of winning state and be a good way to really start off my high school career,” Wright-Conklin said. “Midway during my sophomore season, I was still undefeated, and that’s when I really got my hopes up.”
While his sophomore season was defined largely by his postseason dominance, however, it was a pair of regular-season losses — each of which had a different effect on the wrestler — that might have helped ensure things ended up the way they did.
The first loss, to eventual Class 5A 160-pound champion Logan Gaskill from Emporia, served as a wake-up call after Wright-Conklin admittedly had grown a bit “big-headed” following an undefeated start to the year.
The second, a narrow defeat suffered when he moved up a weight class to challenge Oklahoma-bound senior and eventual 6A state champion Parker Madl from Blue Valley, helped him regain any confidence he’d lost following his first loss and let him know that he could match up with anybody in the state.
“That was to really find out how good I really was,” Wright-Conklin said. “He was undefeated, going to Oklahoma, and I thought if I beat him, colleges would be looking at me. It was one of the closest matches he had all year, and keeping up with him really got my hopes up. Even though I lost, it got me going in knowing what my potential is.”
Following that match, Wright-Conklin tore through the remainder of the regular season, and by the time the state meet rolled around last month, the coach noticed a different kind of focus in his top wrestler.
“When I saw him get real focused was at the state tournament,” Naughton said. “That’s when, in that semifinal match against (Washburn Rural’s) Dalton Stanley, he just had his tunnel vision going, and there wasn’t going to be anybody that stopped him.”
Having wrapped up his first state title in only his second varsity season, Wright-Conklin now will turn his attention toward becoming the first three-time state champion in LHS history — a quest that figures to grow a bit more difficult next season, when Wright-Conklin will move up at least one weight class.
“I’m still getting people saying good job,” he said. “Today on the street, I was walking downtown, and somebody said congratulations. I didn’t know who they were, (but) that was nice.
“I can’t wait to see what happens when you do it twice.”