According to this week’s Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association rankings, Lawrence High has the best team in the Sunflower League. The Lions are ranked No. 7 in Class 6A, ahead of No. 9 Shawnee Mission East and No. 10 Olathe North, and neither of the league’s 5A teams are in the top 10.
When the league championship tournament begins at 9 this morning at LHS, however, coach Pat Naughton said Lawrence won’t be the obvious choice to leave as the 2013 champions.
“Theoretically, that is what we want to do,” Naughton said, “but we won’t be at full strength once again.”
The Lions have battled injuries and illnesses all season, but today another reason will keep one of its wrestlers off the mat. Senior Andrew Denning, ranked No. 1 in among 6A 182-pounders, is taking his ACT and won’t be able to compete.
That could make it even easier for SME or O-North to claim the top spot. Plus, Naughton isn’t counting out the league’s 5A teams.
“Having Leavenworth and Shawnee Mission South both in 5A is kind of different,” he said, “because not too many of us were following those guys along. Both those teams could come out of the woodwork, especially Leavenworth. They’re gonna have a pretty good squad.”
Lawrence certainly won’t be lost without Denning. Freshman 170-pounder Alan Clothier is ranked No. 1 in 6A, with a 31-3 record. Junior Garrett Girard (126), senior Caden Lynch (138), junior Ryan Bellinger (152) and junior Alex Jones (285) all could contend in their weight classes.
And Naughton pointed out even more LHS wrestlers could help the team’s cause in the consolation brackets.
“These tournaments are won on the back side,” he said. “That’s where you can score a lot of points to make up ground.”
Free State coach Mike Gillman would agree with that, and he’s hoping his team’s lightweights can assist in that fashion.
“The kids are capable, but young,” Gillman said of freshmen Quailan Fowler (106), Sid Miller (113) and James Wensel (126). “So we’re trying to get them to make a statement and not be afraid of the upperclassmen (opponents).”
Of course, other Firebirds will contribute heavily to the team’s scoring. Senior Ben Soukup (152) leads FSHS with 20 victories and junior Colton Steele has 19. Gillman is expecting a lot from heavyweight junior Sterling Ozark and 160-pound freshman Sam Skwarlo, as well.
“We’re shooting for the top five,” Gillman said of the league standings. “We’ve made that our goal.”
Other league wrestlers to watch for: Shawnee Mission North senior Armando Contreras (6A’s No. 1 220), Leavenworth senior Nathan Butler (5A’s No. 1 285), Olathe Northwest sophomore Doug Newcomb (6A’s No. 2 106), SME senior Chipper Jorns (6A’s No. 2 132), SME senior Jack Mitchell (No. 2, 132), SMS senior Reis Humphrey (5A’s No. 2 145) and Shawnee Mission West senior Ramiro Gatica (6A’s No. 3 220) are just a few of the league’s top-ranked grapplers.