Head coach: Mike Hill, 14th season at FSHS.
2010 finish: 19-6, fourth at state tournament.
Key returners: Cody Kukuk, sr., Colin Toalson sr.
Reason to hope: With Kukuk and Toalson, who were both All State selections following their junior seasons, heading up the Firebirds’ pitching staff, there’s little reason to expect they won’t be in the running to improve on last year’s fourth place finish at the state tournament.
Reason to fear: 11 letterwinners, including six starters, graduated from last year’s team, leaving many spots up for grabs early on. Many of those positions, Hill says, won't be firmly established until a few weeks into the season.
Coach speak: “Most of our (graduated seniors) will be replaced by young kids,” Hill said. “The key for us is to stay healthy. Most high school teams can’t afford injuries, but we certainly cannot.”
Track and Field
Head coach: Steve Heffernan, 14th season at FSHS.
2010 finish: Boys finished 12th at state, girls 13th.
Key returners: Austin Hoag, sr., Kain Anderson, jr., Logan Sloan, sr., Preston Newsome, sr., Hayley Francis, sr.
Impact Newcomers: Dayshawn Berndt, jr., Alexa Harmon-Thomas, fr.
Reason to hope: Among with the plethora of returners who hope to improve their times and events, Heffernan has the largest team he’s ever had.
“Just the number of kids now at every area generates a lot more enthusiasm,” he said.
Reason to fear: Getting the younger athletes adjusted to competing at the varsity level.
“Lots of freshman in the past have a tough time making transition from junior high,” Heffernan said. “But having them here for the full year (because of the rule change) will help.”
Coach speak: “I’m optimistic, excited, all of those words,” Heffernan said. “I really feel like we’re going to be in good shape this year.”
Head coach: Lee Ice, second season at FSHS.
2010 finish: 5-15.
Key returners: Alex Hill jr., Sam O’Brien, jr. Courtney Parker, soph., A’Liyah Rogers, soph.
Impact Newcomers: Megan Eagle jr., Mary Ann Smith, jr.
Reason to hope: Ice is excited about strong group of sophomores and juniors, as well as eager to see what his promising class of freshman can do. And even in losing top pitcher Megan Smith (who currently plays for UMKC), Ice is excited about his pitching staff.
Reason to fear: Gone are two starters and the lone senior, Paige Rothwell, is sidelined while recuperating from a torn ACL. Rothwell, the team’s starting shortstop and main power hitter when healthy, is optimistic about a midseason return.
“It’s a bonus if we get Paige back,” Ice said.
Coach speak: “The way I look at the overall success of this season is no different than any other year,” Ice said. “Good pitching, good defense, timely hitting.”
Head coach: Oather Strawderman, second season.
2010 finish: Fifth at regionals, sixth in Sunflower League.
Key returners: Chris Helt, sr., Patrick Carttar, sr.
Impact Newcomers: Nick Pellet, jr., Richard Lu, soph.
Reason to hope: While Craig, Helt and Cartarr are among the standout returners, Strawderman’s roster ballooned to 30 after only 10 came out last spring. Of those, 21 are freshman and sophomores — which have him excited about the constant increase in competition.
Reason to fear: If anything, the Firebirds play a tough schedule – including a dual against perennial 6A powerhouse Washburn Rural – though Strawderman looks at all of the challenges as more of a positive than a negative.
Coach speak: “It’s really awesome to have that much competition out there,” Strawderman said. “It’s a really good opportunity for the kids to push one another.”
Head coach: Matt Gudenkauf, sixth season at FSHS (11th total).
2010 finish: Two qualifiers for the state tournament.
Key returners: Colin Becker, jr., Lee York, jr., Alex Green, soph., Jake Sakamura, sr.
Impact Newcomers: Levi Baker, jr.
Reason to hope: Even most of the underclassmen are experienced, as more than half of the boys are members at one of the city’s golf courses. Gudenkauf is eager for his team, regardless of the scores, to conduct themselves professionally on the course.
Reason to fear: Actual time on the course has been limited early on for the Firebirds. No excuses from Gudenkauf, though.
“One of the things that I let them know is that they’re not unique,” he said. “Every other school is in the same situation.”
Coach speak: “Maybe this is more of our growing year,” Gudenkauf said. “Where next year we can make some noise.”
Head coach: Kelly Barah, first season (as head coach) at FSHS (fourth total).
2010 finish: 7-8-1.
Key returners: Annie Libeer, sr., Hillary Yoder, sr., Chelsea Casady, Rachael Hodison, sr.
Impact Newcomers: Alexa Harmon-Thomas, fr.
Reason to hope: A good mix of experience and youth on thre field. Practice has only been underway for a few short weeks, but Barah likes what he sees.
“They’re always in there battling,” he said. “I think our youth will actually serve us well because they don’t play like it.”
Reason to fear: Barah estimated that about 60-percent of FSHS’s on field production left with last year’s graduating seniors.
“If I had anything to worry about it would be just us coming together and playing as a team,” Barah said. “I really don’t worry about people we lost, who we have right now are more than capable of filling those shoes.”
Coach speak: “If nothing else, a good leadership group, they’ve been there through thick and thin when nobody thought we were good,” Barah said. “Combined with our athleticism and talent, all the leadership will be more visible this time.
Head coach: Annette McDonald, 11th season.
2010 finish: Third at the state tournament.
Key returners: Kara Mishler, sr., Reilly Moore, sr., Liesel Reussner, sr., Jackie Soelter, jr., Brooke Leslie, soph., Morgan Miller, soph., Rosemary Black, soph., Caroline King, jr. Maggie Arensberg, jr., Katie Kimbrough, jr., Hana Arch, jr., Grace Oliver, jr.
Impact Newcomers: Bailey Watson, fr., Kate McCurdy, fr., Annie Soderburg, soph., Olivia Loney, fr.
Reason to hope: Senior co-captains Mishler (100 butterfly), Moore (100 breast stroke), and Katy Thellman, along with Reussner, have the talent and experience to lead the way back to the state tournament.
Reason to fear: The Firebirds are without nine seniors from last year’s team, five of whom were major contributors. Aside from the upperclassmen, nearly half of the roster is comprised of freshman and sophomores with little varsity experience.
“We have swimmers that are right on the cusp on consideration times not automatic times,” McDonald said. “We’re going to have to put in a lot of work to drop their times. Or for divers get the degree of difficulty up so they can qualify for state.”
Coach speak: “When you have that many freshman and sophomores, you’re kind of in a building year, I think people don’t like saying that,” McDonald said. “I really think that Kara and Reilly will carry the team and their experience and leadership will help lead the way.”