Girls swimming and diving
Head coach: Annette McDonald, fourth year
2009 finish: State champions
Key returners: Morgan Flannigan, senior; Adriane Black, senior; Heather Clark, senior; Reilly Moore, junior; Kara Mishler, junior; Chloe Portela, junior; Kayla Hedges, junior.
Impact newcomers: N/A
Reason to hope: In short, experience. Every swimmer who scored at last year’s state meet returns this season, with the exception of Molly Albrecht, giving the Firebirds a strong nucleus heading into this season.
Reason to fear: With the exception of potential illness or injury, there’s not much that seems to be limiting Free State entering the season.
If you go to one meet make it this one: Sunflower League Invitational, May 7-8, Olathe-California Trail Junior High
Coach speak: “I have six returning seniors who have been with the team since I started coaching girls their freshmen/sophomore years,” McDonald said. “We have a clear vision of how to make the team successful. They have been there and know what it takes. They model great work ethic, dedication and pride for the underclassmen and newcomers to follow.”
Head coach: Lee Ice, first year
2009 finish: 9-13, lost to Olathe Northwest in regional final
Key returners: Megan Smith, senior; Lauren Fox, senior; Alex Hill, sophomore; Samantha O’Brien, sophomore.
Impact newcomers: Katy Davis, freshman; Courtney Parker, freshman; A’Liyan Rogers, freshman.
Reason to hope: The Firebirds return the middle of their infield in second baseman Hill and shortstop O’Brien, as well as catcher Fox and pitcher Smith.
Reason to fear: Free State will attempt to replace the production of eight seniors from last year’s team, including standouts and current Kansas University softball players Maggie and Rosie Hull. “Throwing freshmen and sophomores into the Sunflower League will be challenging,” Ice said. “We may take a few steps backward before we get to where we want to go.”
If you go to one game make it this one: Free State vs. Lawrence High, May 6, at Free State.
Coach speak: “The season will be a process,” Ice said, “one that starts with getting everyone in the program to buy in to how we approach the game. So far, we have 41 individuals who have worked extremely hard to get to where they are today. It’s our job now to teach them and place them in situations to be successful.”
Head coach: Oather Strawderman, first year
2009 finish: Regional champions and fifth-place at state tournament
Key returners: Dravid Joseph, senior; Patrick Carttar, junior.
Impact newcomers: Andrew Craig, sophomore; Nick Pellet, sophomore.
Reason to hope: Strawderman has been impressed with the focus players have brought to the first few days of practice. Many of the team’s players play year-round and have remained sharp during the offseason lay-off.
Reason to fear: “There are so many strong players (that) it is going to be difficult to keep a static top six, since there are a lot of top JV players who could possibly challenge their way into a varsity spot,” Strawderman said. “This is something that’s also an advantage because it keeps the varsity on their toes, not just during events, but also in practice.”
If you go to one match make it this one: Free State Invitational, April 6.
Coach speak: “We have a good chance to make a high showing at regionals,” Strawderman said. “I am optimistic that we will be able to get multiple entrants to state again this year.”
Head coach: Mike Hill, 13th year
2009 finish: 17-5, Sunflower League champions and regional runner-up
Key returners: Ryan Scott, senior; Cody Kukuk, junior; Connor Stremel, senior; Nick Hassig, senior.
Impact newcomers: Tim Lewis, junior; J.D. Prochaska, sophomore.
Reason to hope: The Firebirds return all but one starter from last year’s Sunflower League-champion team, including Scott, a first-team all-state pitcher last season, and Kukuk, a second-team all-state utility player. The team’s pitching corps is deep, too, while the Firebirds enter the season ranked No. 22 nationally by Collegiate Baseball magazine.
Reason to fear: The team will have to improve offensively to have a chance to battle for a state championship, though that seems likely given the level of experience returning.
If you go to one game make it this one: Free State vs. Lawrence High, May 13, Hoglund Ballpark.
Coach speak: “Our team has the opportunity to be in the thick of things for the Sunflower League and state championships,” Hill said. “We believe we will be competitive defensively and on the mound. With progress offensively, we could be a strong team.”
Track and field
Head coach: Steve Heffernan, 13th year
2009 finish: Girls finished 13th at Class 6A state meet, boys finished 17th.
Key returners: Drue Davis, senior; Hayley Francis, junior; Hailey Donley, sophomore; Lynn Robinson, sophomore; Libby Wiebe, senior; Keene Niemack, senior; Logan Sloan, junior; Kain Anderson, sophomore.
Impact newcomers: Hannah Oberreider, sophomore; Courtney Huffman, sophomore; Brie Mingus, sophomore; John Volkin, sophomore; Dylan Perry, junior; Henry Veano, junior; Justin McCandless, junior; Matt Cole, junior.
Reason to hope: The Firebirds return a good amount of talent from last year’s boys and girls teams, which earned a combined seven medals at the state meet. Davis is the defending state champion in the girls pole vault and placed fifth in the 100-meter dash, while distance runners Sloan and Anderson both medaled in the boys state cross country meet last fall.
Reason to fear: Free State will be counting on some inexperienced newcomers to contribute this season, though Heffernan seems confident they’ll be able to adapt quickly to the sport. “We have a lot of new talent that is inexperienced but can make a big impact by season’s end,” he said.
If you go to one meet make it this one: Sunflower League Invitational, May 14, Free State High
Coach speak: “Our success this year will not be dependent on talent — we have that,” Heffernan said. “Our success will depend on how quickly our new kids learn how to compete in high school track and field. If we can help them develop, we have the ability to be very competitive at the end of the year.”
Head coach: Matt Gudenkauf, fifth year
2009 finish: Fifth place at regional tournament
Key returners: Conner Klutman, senior; Evan Schmidt, senior; Joey Sakamura, senior.
Impact newcomer: Colin Becker, sophomore.
Reason to hope: Senior leadership will be a plus, as Klutman, Schmidt and Sakamura all enter the season with varsity experience. In addition, younger players Becker, Jake Sakamura, Lee York and Jackson Ferguson have performed well in practice so far this year. With the state tournament being held in Lawrence this season, the Firebirds also will have extra incentive to play well down the stretch.
Reason to fear: “It takes four good scores to compete at this level,” Gudenkauf said. “Getting four good scores on the same day from these guys is certainly going to be a challenge. I know they have good rounds in them, but can they do it all at the same time when it counts?”
If you go to one event make it this one: Class 6A state tournament, May 24, Alvamar Country Club
Coach speak: “Out of the past three years, we have not had a team represented at state, and I know (our seniors) want that to be part of their high school resume,” Gudenkauf said. “But, like I said before, we need four scores, and so they need to push the underclassmen to excel and play well.”
Head coach: Jason Pendleton, 11th year
2009 finish: 6-10-1, lost to Lawrence High in regional tournament
Key returners: Hannah Carlson, senior; Grace Lang, senior; Mac Liebl, senior; Caroline Mayhew, senior.
Impact newcomers: N/A
Reason to hope: The Firebirds feature two players — Carlson and Lang — who have received all-state honors during their careers, and a talented group of freshman is expected to provide a boost, as well. Further, the team loses just one player from last year’s team.
Reason to fear: “We have no fears!” Pendleton said.
If you go to one game make it this one: Free State vs. Washburn Rural, today, Free State High.
Coach speak: “We are more talented than any team that Free State has had since 2001,” Pendleton said. “If we stay healthy and get some breaks and the stars align, this team has a chance to be successful and potentially have a winning record.”