During wrestling season, there are numerous tournaments and duals — even dual tournaments — in which wrestlers compete as they work their way toward the postseason. But few dates get city grapplers as excited as the annual dual between Lawrence High and Free State.
With the city showdown between the Lions’ and Firebirds’ varsity teams scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. tonight at LHS, the anticipation is nearly over.
Lawrence comes in touted as the No. 2 team in Class 6A, with seven of its wrestlers ranked among the best in their respective weight classes. Senior Reece Wright-Conklin (182 pounds) is No. 1, seniors Nick Pursel (170) and Brad Wilson (220), junior Hunter Haralson (126) and freshman Tristan Star (106) are all ranked No. 3, sophomore Garrett Girard (113) is No. 5 and junior Caden Lynch (132) is No. 6.
The Firebirds, meanwhile, have one ranked wrestler: unbeaten junior 182-pounder Spencer Wilson, who is No. 2, with a record of 19-0.
Wilson’s match against Wright-Conklin (21-1) should have the gymnasium abuzz.
Said LHS coach Pat Naughton: “Any time you’ve got the top two kids in the state in one weight class, it’s gonna be pretty big.”
FSHS coach Mike Gillman agreed that the showdown at 182 should be exciting, and lauded Wright-Conklin for his two state championships. Gillman described Wilson’s technique as more unorthodox, but said the Firebirds junior should be up for the challenge.
“He’ll play it down like he’s not really excited,” Gillman said of Wilson, “but I think he’s pretty excited for the opportunity.”
Naughton said both wrestlers have worked hard to get to this point, and he was impressed with Wilson’s second-place finish at state as a 160-pound sophomore.
“He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with,” the LHS coach said of Wilson.
What makes Wright-Conklin so tough, Gillman said, is his speed, given his bulk and strength.
“Reece isn’t tiny,” Gillman said. “At all.”
Another match to watch for, Naughton said, will be in the 132-pound class, with Lawrence’s Lynch facing FSHS senior Andrew McLees.
Given the Lions’ success this year, Gillman expects the dual to challenge his Firebirds — “We’re the underdog, for sure,” he said — and he knows wrestlers from both schools are looking forward to going up against the guys they grew up competing with and against.
“They get to try and beat their friends on the mat,” the FSHS coach said.
Varsity matches are the main event, but festivities at the dual will be underway at 6 p.m. with junior varsity matches.
Following that, at about 6:30, will be exhibition matches featuring city wrestling clubs Sunflower Kids and Lawrence Elite.
At 7, LHS seniors who aren’t in the varsity lineup will wrestle.
When the varsity matches begin, Naughton said the dual might not start, as is tradition, at 106 pounds. Coaches from FSHS and LHS will draw the first weight class, so the starting point could be anywhere — from 106 to heavyweight.
Naughton said the first 100 LHS students to arrive will receive free T-shirts.