Everything Lawrence High’s wrestling team has done this season has been geared toward today and Saturday.
Competing in two-day tournaments, overnight stays, facing tough competition — it was all to prepare the Lions for the Class 6A state wrestling tournament, which begins at 10 a.m. today at Hartman Arena in Wichita.
With 10 LHS wrestlers — seniors Macon Ezell (152), Nick Pursel (170), Reece Wright-Conklin (182) and Brad Wilson (220), juniors Hunter Haralson (126) and Caden Lynch (132), sophomores Garrett Girard (113), Ryan Walter (120) and Alex Jones (285) and freshman Tristan Star (106) — all competing at state, the Lions, ranked No. 2 in Class 6A, hope to rack up enough points to contend for a state championship when the tourney wraps up Saturday evening.
Lawrence’s wrestlers, coach Pat Naughton said, will have to be mentally prepared, warmed up and ready to go if they want to have a chance at a team title.
“Down there at state, you can’t have a slow start,” Naughton said. “You’ve got to be ready to go.”
Haralson, who placed fourth at state as a 119-pounder in 2011, said the Lions can’t afford to overlook anybody the next two days.
“At state, anything could happen at any moment,” Haralson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re seeded higher than anybody else.”
Every day, he added, the team has discussed LHS assistant coach Randy Streeter’s philosophy: “Anybody can beat anybody at any given point, no matter how good or how bad your record is.”
Finding a way to build momentum, Pursel said, will be huge for each wrestler, because winning back-to-back matches is difficult at state.
“It’s just a matter of stringing together (wins at) that tournament,” he said. “I’ve seen them all (his LHS teammates) win their matches against kids that are gonna be there.”
In pursuit of a team title, Naughton said having 10 wrestlers will improve Lawrence’s odds. Still, some programs will have more competing — No. 1 Manhattan is sending all 14 of its wrestlers, No. 7 Derby qualified 12, No. 10 Junction City will have 11, and Shawnee Mission East will be represented in 13 weight classes. Naughton has stressed to the wrestlers that all of that is out of their control.
Haralson said LHS can’t afford to care about other teams having more grapplers at their disposal.
“As long as our wrestlers come there with the mind-set that we can win and we can do it with 10 wrestlers, I don’t think numbers will matter,” he said.
Pursel agreed that LHS shouldn’t be limited because of its numbers, because, realistically, the team that wins it all likely will have eight or nine medalists.
“Most of our guys that are going are going to be able to place,” Pursel said.
Free State sending four
Four Free State High wrestlers will be competing at the state tournament. Senior Andrew McLees (132) and junior Spencer Wilson (182) are returning state qualifiers — Wilson was state runner-up at 160 pounds in 2011 — while junior Ben Soukup (152) and sophomore Maurice Jacobs (126) will make their state debuts.
“They’re pretty excited,” FSHS coach Mike Gillman said.
After practicing Thursday night, Gillman said he hoped to get the wrestlers settled down and focused in on what’s at hand. The coach especially wanted to calm down Spencer.
“His personal goal is obviously to get to the finals,” Gillman said.
The No. 2 182-pounder in 6A has even more specific plans.
“Hopefully I’ll make it to the finals again and face Reece,” the Free State junior said of a possible fourth match-up this season with Lawrence’s Wright-Conklin, ranked No. 1 in 6A.
Spencer is 0-3 against his rival thus far and would like a chance at another rematch, considering Wright-Conklin (34-2) has accounted for each of Spencer’s losses in a 30-3 season.
“I think I just have to be more focused than I’ve been,” he said.
City wrestling records
106 — Tristan Star, 36-6
113 — Garrett Girard, 21-7
120 — Ryan Walter, 12-16
126 — Hunter Haralson, 35-6
132 — Caden Lynch, 30-11
152 — Macon Ezell, 12-13
170 — Nick Pursel, 34-3
182 — Reece Wright-Conklin, 34-2
220 — Brad Wilson, 35-6
285 — Alex Jones, 10-14
126 — Maurice Jacobs, 18-15
132 — Andrew McLees, 20-16
152 — Ben Soukup, 16-10
182 — Spencer Wilson, 30-3