Early on this season, when Pat Naughton realized his Lawrence High wrestling team had the potential to put together a special run, the coach did something interesting.
He kept the information to himself.
“We knew that we had a shot of being pretty good, but we didn’t want to let on to it,” said Naughton, the Journal-World’s 2009-10 area wrestling coach of the year. “In some cases — especially at (tournaments in) Rose Hill and Newton — we kind of played up the tournaments a little bit more than we needed to.”
The goal was to make sure the team’s wrestlers, who had enjoyed a good deal of success early on in the season, didn’t begin to develop big heads, and in the end, it was hard to argue with the results.
Lawrence High performed its best on the biggest stages, most notably during a ninth-place overall finish at the Class 6A state meet in February, as four wrestlers won at least two matches and sophomore Reece Wright-Conklin (160 pounds) claimed the program’s first individual state championship since 2006.
The state tournament performance capped an impressive ’09-10 season that also included a team regional title (Naughton was named regional coach of the year for his efforts) and saw the Lions qualify 10 wrestlers for the state meet, the highest total in four years.
And a good portion of that success can be attributed to a coach whose encyclopedic knowledge of the local wrestling terrain has helped Lawrence High establish itself as a perennial state power.
“He knows everything about everybody,” Wright-Conklin said. “He pretty much lives and breathes wrestling.”
Perhaps Naughton’s most impressive feat, however, has been building a foundation that likely will put LHS in a position to succeed for at least the next three years.
The team returns eight wrestlers that competed at the state tournament — as well as a number of JV wrestlers who figure to factor into the team’s varsity plans in ’10-11 — meaning that next season has the potential to be even more fruitful than last.
“Our future’s just looking great,” Naughton said, “because we got those (JV) kids that are going to be coming up and battling for spots, and all that’s going to do is make us stronger.”