Two years removed from having to travel all over the city, Lawrence High athletes are enjoying their new on-campus facilities, and it seems to already be having a positive impact on the teams.
A look at the eight fall sports Lawrence High fields:
Boys cross country
This perennial power is trying to build off of its third-place finish at state last season. Several senior leaders have a chance to graduate with their third state championship for ninth-year coach Brian Anderson.
Simon Fangman, Reid Hildenbrand, Zach Andregg, Nathan Stringer and Thomas Ezell will aim to add to their 2008 and 2009 state championships. Among the underclassmen leaders are juniors Gavin Fischer and Adam Edmonds and sophomore Eddie Wilson. The boys retained their core from last year.
Girls cross country
The Lions finished 11th in the state meet a year ago, and Anderson is confident they can do even better. According to their times, the following 10 runners are already ahead of the team’s fourth-best runner at this time last year: seniors Michala Ruder, Chloe Hay and Payton Covert; juniors Grace Morgan, Heather Cistola and Emily McEntire; sophomore Laura Neilsen; and freshmen Emily Laughlin, Leah Gabler and Riley Snook.
Anderson said this team is the school’s strongest since a sixth-place finish in the state meet in 2006.
Right away, the squad is going to be tested, facing three of the Sunflower League’s top four teams. The Lions play host to Shawnee Mission West tonight, then go on the road for three in a row. It’s all about improving for head coach Dirk Wedd.
“If we do that, which we have done a good job of so far, the wins and losses will take care of themselves,” he said.
Dual-threat junior quarterback Brad Strauss made a strong impression as a rare sophomore starter last season and has grown, physically and in leadership ways. Senior Charles Jackson is expected to lead the running game, and classmate Anthony Buffalomeat heads the receiving unit. Senior offensive guard Joel Odrowski has returned even bigger and stronger.
Defensively, the whole secondary returns with Strauss, juniors Erick Mayo, Drake Hofer and senior Garrett Cleavinger. Senior Sean Thomas and junior Kharon Brown form a strong tandem at defensive tackle.
Senior Brady Murrish didn’t play much last season, but will at center this season. Likewise, senior Gari Jones, who played basketball last season, will see more time at receiver.
“I think it has a chance to be a really good team,” Wedd said. “A lot of things will have to fall our way.”
In coach Mike Lewis’ 10 years of coaching golf, this roster is his biggest.
“Five to six of the girls are playing just to have fun learning the game and spending time with their teammates,” Lewis said. “The other girls are all competing to play JV and varsity so that makes for a solid team for both.”
LHS qualified for state last season and finished 10th. The goal this year is to get to the top half of the Sunflower League and qualify as a team for state.
To do so, senior Payton Covert and juniors Quillen Eichhorn and Attie Pennybaker need to finish in the upper half of tournaments, which they are capable of doing, according to Lewis. The coach said the same of a pair of newcomers, junior Anna Wright and sophomore Abigail Schmidtberger.
“We should be able to put together a competitive team score and also compete at a high level individually,” Lewis said. “All five are good competitors, solid golfers, and work hard daily at improving their games.”
Danielle Hayes, who coaches gymnasts from both of the city’s public high schools and has them practice together, is in her first year, having accepted the job, she said, to keep the schools from scratching the sport.
She said participation numbers are higher at Free State and she is just getting a feel for some of the athletes.
“Most of the girls are on about the same level,” Hayes said of the Lions. “Some work harder at it than others.”
Hayes singled out one freshman as particularly talented and committed.
“Cambry Lynch is going to be the one to look out for,” Hayes said.
In last Friday’s season-opener, Lawrence outshot Manhattan, 15-4, but six shots hit the post, an open-net shot went over the goal and the Lions lost, 3-0.
“It was just one of those games,” LHS coach Mike Murphy said.
Despite the loss and a 4-11-1 record last season, he expressed optimism. The Lions had two seniors on last year’s roster, compared to eight this year, led by team captain Tanner Click. Zach Wustefeld and Tanner Williams are expected to play key roles.
Justin Riley, the other team captain, is one of the nine juniors and in his third varsity season. The same goes for junior Gavin Fischer. Having such an experienced roster bodes well for the Lions’ chances of surpassing their four-victory total from last season.
Head coach Chris Marshall didn’t know he was the girls tennis coach until 10 days before the season began. Already the boys tennis coach, he’s still getting a read on the girls team.
“I’m not quite there yet, but we’re getting there,” Marshall said.
What he does know is he has a talented senior in Taylor Eubanks, the No. 1 singles player for the Lions.
For Wednesday’s varsity match, Marshall showed some new faces. He took two freshmen, Chloe Clement and Kendall Pritchard, along with junior Molli Noller, who didn’t play much last season.
The rotation is not set and could change any time. Marshall said it’s hard gauging the team this early when some girls show a lot of improvement one day and the next it seems like everyone is on the same level.
He also doesn’t have much to compare it with, having not seen other teams. All he can go by is what he hears from his players.
“I know some of them think that we are a state-caliber team,” Marshall said.
Head coach Stephanie Magnuson enters her fifth year with an interesting dilemma. She said 66 girls tried out for 38 spots.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Magnuson said. “It’s a horrible thing to have to have to make that decision for the kids.”
The team has a different look after losing six graduating seniors.
Now the three seniors — Kaley Wingert, Christina Haswood and Kelsey Kilburn — have to lead a group of talented underclassmen. The freshmen look especially promising because they have been playing year-round, Magnuson said.
Magnuson likes the long-range outlook of the program, but knows young teams can encounter growing pains.
“Being so underclassman-heavy, it’s just a whole new team,” she said. “We really get to make not just one-year goals, but two-year goals.”