With the arrival of spring sports, each program, each coach, each player might have a different definition of success.
Expectations this season at Lawrence High run the gamut from state-title contention to showing flashes of promise that can be building blocks for the future.
Here’s a look at what each LHS team is shooting for this year.
A fourth-place finish at the Class 6A state tournament might be a great accomplishment for some programs, but not Lawrence baseball.
For eighth-year coach Brad Stoll’s Lions, the goal every season is to win a state championship, and this year will be no different.
Stoll said LHS has a group that has played together for several years, so the players hold themselves and their teammates accountable.
LHS has five returning starters who are seniors: left-handed pitcher Garrett Cleavinger, center fielder CJ Roush, first baseman/designated hitter Matt Sutliffe, catcher Jake Vinoverski and shortstop/third baseman Troy Willoughby.
With junior Shane Willoughby back as well to play shortstop or third, and junior CJ Stuever and sophomore Drew Green both expected to help out immediately, Lawrence had enough talent to earn a national preseason ranking of No. 50 from Baseball America.
“We talk about how the season is a marathon, not a sprint,” Stoll said. “Our whole approach is to get better and peak by the first to middle part of May, playing our best baseball going into the postseason.”
Lawrence’s opener is March 23, in Edmond, Okla.
Lawrence boys golf coach Dirk Wedd knows his golfers aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean favorable outcomes are that far off.
“We need to improve from top to bottom,” Wedd said. “With improvement we could make some noise at league and regionals.”
Two of the three LHS golfers who qualified for state in 2011 are back and more experienced this year. Senior Logan Henrichs and junior Brett Van Blaricum enter the season as the Lions’ most likely leaders. According to Wedd, Henrichs is long off the tee and if he can find greater consistency in his short game, he could shoot up the leaderboard at state by season’s end. Van Blaricum, Wedd added, works hard at his craft and will continue to improve as he gets stronger.
Senior Devon Weber and sophomores Connor Henrichs and Narito Mendez also return to the Lawrence varsity lineup, and Wedd indicated juniors Nick Andrews and Cole Cummins, as well as sophomore Taylor Grob could become contributors, too.
On March 26, the Lions begin their season at the Blue Valley West Invite.
There isn’t an overwhelming amount of experience on the Lawrence boys tennis roster this spring, but third-year coach Chris Marshall has two players from last season’s regional runner-up team who at least went to state.
Senior Matt Grom qualified for the state doubles tournament in 2011, while sophomore Thomas Irick captured a singles regional championship, played at state and finished his freshman year with a 27-7 record.
Who else will help out the Lions this season, Marshall said, has yet to be determined.
“I am hoping that we have some of our younger, new players step up and make an impact,” the coach said.
Marshall said LHS will spend more time hitting at practices this year, and the hope is that will translate into a lot of individual improvements.
“Every match is important for individual and team improvements,” Marshall said. “The goal is to improve and play well through the season to position yourself well for league and regional. That is when we should be playing our best tennis.”
Lawrence’s season begins March 27 at Emporia.
New LHS girls soccer coach Janna Kepler knows the program she is taking over has been far from stable lately, but in spite of the turnover on the coaching staff, she is glad the core of the team remains intact.
“We lost only one returning letter-winner from last year,” the first-year Lions coach pointed out. “The girls love soccer, and are passionate to prove themselves. We have a lot of fighters on this year’s team.”
Those returning include two LHS seniors, forward Laura Falkenstein and sweeper Lauren Fleming, and two juniors, midfielder Elizabeth Burney and stopper Ella Magerl.
Kepler expects senior midfielder Merideth Warinner, who had to sit out last season after transferring, and freshman midfielder Karissa Aldrich to contribute immediately, as well.
“Our biggest challenge is building as a team,” Kepler said. “A lot of our players have skills as individual soccer players. However, we need to focus on reading each other and learning to anticipate passes and cuts. Give us time and our team will mesh.”
The Lions open at home on March 27 versus Baldwin.
Apparently the popularity of the Lawrence girls swimming and diving team is on the rise.
That is great news for coach Kent McDonald, who has seen his team’s number of divers increase from zero in 2011 to three this year and its group of swimmers grow from 23 to 35.
“Numbers win, so we are looking better in that way,” McDonald said. “We also have more experienced swimmers who will have a positive impact on the team this year.”
Key returning swimmers include seniors MacKenzie Rhoades and Sierra Wilkens, juniors Miranda Rohn, Chandler McElhaney, Heather Cistola and Tara Rasing and sophomores Annie Odrowski and Maddie Ruder.
McDonald said sophomores Gretchen Frick, Sarah Smoot and diver Allison Williams should be able to score points for LHS, as should freshmen Alex Ginsberg, Hannah Lee and Nicole Oblon.
The sixth-year Lions coach is looking forward to the team’s development this spring.
“We have a number of swimmers who are new to the sport and need to learn some of the basic techniques,” he said.
The Firebirds’ season begins with events today and Thursday in Emporia.
Entering his first year as Lawrence’s softball coach, Nick Wood is glad to be inheriting some players who led the Lions to a 14-9 record and a spot in the state tournament in 2011.
“Their leadership will be needed,” Wood said, “because most likely we will be playing a lot of talented younger players that will be taking the field at the 6A varsity level for the first time.”
Coming back for LHS are senior third baseman Lauren Byrn and senior center fielder Megan Wilson, as well as sophomore middle infielder Marly Carmona.
Wood expects a number of younger players to step up for Lawrence, including sophomore first baseman Kristen Gile, who played some on the varsity level as a freshman. Incoming freshman Morgan Byrn, a middle infielder, also should contribute.
The challenge for the Lions will be navigating through the Sunflower League, which includes three other state-tournament teams, including reigning 6A champ Olathe Northwest.
Lawrence’s season debut comes March 27 with home games against Shawnee Mission West.
Depth in talent and numbers on the Lawrence track roster isn’t the only reason coach Jack Hood is ready to get this season started.
He is just as fired up about the Lions having four in-town dates — two at home, two at Free State — on the 2012 schedule.
Leading the LHS boys, who finished 15th in 6A at state last year, are seniors thrower Blake Hocking, jumper Steven Hill, sprinter Gari Jones, hurdler Noel Fisher and junior distance runner Gavin Fischer.
Hood said the Lions will have to wait and see who else could emerge as an impact newcomer.
For the girls, senior 4x800 relay members Michala Ruder and Payton Covert lead a young team.
There are a few newcomers, though, expected to help the LHS cause. Junior Monica Howard, who transferred to Lawrence from Baldwin, is slated to compete in a number of events, while three freshmen — middle-distance runner Leah Gabler, sprinter Jensen Edwards and throwers Matia and Rebecca Finley — all should help Lawrence’s scoring.
The LHS season gets under way at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Topeka West.