Every high school wrestler in Kansas has been waiting all season for this weekend.
Wrestlers from eight schools will be battling to secure their invitations to the state tournament when a Class 6A regional begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Lawrence High.
LHS and Free State grapplers will be at the tournament to compete against athletes from Leavenworth, Shawnee Mission East, SM North, SM Northwest, SM South and SM West.
Considering all those teams are from the Sunflower League, Free State coach Mike Gillman didn’t have much trouble picking out a favorite.
“Obviously, with Shawnee Mission East winning league last weekend, they’re the favorite for sure,” he said, adding that Lawrence could challenge SME.
Lions coach Pat Naughton agreed, and said SMS could be in the running, as well.
With more ranked wrestlers than any other team at the tournament, host LHS enters as the top-ranked team in the field at No. 3 (SM East is No. 9). The Lions have six ranked wrestlers on their roster — No. 1 Reece Wright-Conklin (182), No. 2 Tristan Star (106), No. 3 Hunter Haralson (126), No. 3 Brad Wilson (220), No. 3 Nick Pursel (170) and No. 4 Caden Lynch (132). But with the top four finishers in each weight class qualifying for state, Naughton said Lawrence has high expectations for the regional.
“We’re hoping to send 13 out of 14 weight classes — that’s our goal,” the coach said, noting the Lions will be open at 195.
Free State, meanwhile, has one ranked wrestler — No. 2 Spencer Wilson (182). Gillman said Spencer won’t be the only Firebird in the running for a state berth, though.
“I think we have eight that could contend,” Gillman said.
The FSHS coach expects Andrew McLees (132), Ben Soukup (152) and Maurice Jacobs (126) to have as good a chance as anyone at getting to state.
“It’s really exciting for our kids,” Gillman said of the regional. “It’s all they’ve been thinking about.”
The rest of Lawrence’s lineup will be comprised of Garrett Girard (113), Ryan Walter (120), Jacob Von Feldt (138), Josh Song (145), Macon Ezell (152), Ryan Schulteis (160) and Alex Jones (285).
Others representing Free State will be Sebastian Joseph (113), Colton Steele (138), Jack Kelin (145), Stan Skwarlo (160), Seth Holiday (170), Tyler Sampson (220) and Reid Buckingham (285).
With the state tournament just a few wins away, Naughton said all the wrestlers will be up for the challenge.
“You want to make sure you punch your ticket on Saturday,” the LHS coach said. “You have to make your own mark.”
Admission to the regional tournament is $8 for adults and $6 for students. Spectators must use the west entrance to the gym, because LHS also is hosting a forensics tournament Saturday.