After scrambling to beat Thursday’s snow onslaught and get down to Wichita a day early, on Wednesday, wrestlers from Lawrence High and Free State will have to wait a little longer to hit the mats and compete today at the Class 6A state tournament.
Originally scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at Hartman Arena, first-round matches were pushed back because of the inclement weather and will start this afternoon at 4, nearly 48 hours after the Lions, Firebirds and many other wrestlers arrived.
Once they get past the added anticipation, the city’s 15 state qualifiers will begin their quests to reach the medal stand Saturday, when the top six finishers in each bracket are rewarded for their efforts.
Two heavy favorites to finish at the top are Lawrence’s Andrew Denning, a 182-pound senior, and Alan Clothier, a 170-pound freshman. Both are ranked No. 1 in their weight class in 6A.
Still, LHS coach Pat Naughton is confident other wrestlers from the No. 7-ranked Lions can join the team leaders as medal-winners.
“We feel like if everybody puts something together, we should have a few medalists out of our nine that are going,” Naughton said.
Joining Denning and Clothier for Lawrence are junior Xavier Kenney (106), sophomore Jhon Jacob (113), senior Tim Thongone (120), junior Garrett Girard (126), senior Caden Lynch (138), junior Ryan Bellinger (152) and junior Alex Jones (285).
“We strongly believe that we have some good draws, and our kids are set up to do OK,” Naughton said.
The coach thinks Kenney and Girard could be dark horses to advance far at the tournament.
“Both those kids are just primed and ready to start knocking some kids off,” he said.
Free State coach Mike Gillman feels the same about his Firebirds. He said FSHS, without a ranked wrestler, definitely has medal contenders.
“Ben Soukup is one of the leaders of the team, and we’re expecting him to place for sure,” Gillman said. “These kids want to place when we go down (to state).”
Along with senior Soukup (152), freshman Quailan Fowler (106), freshman James Wensel (126), junior Maurice Jacobs (132), freshman Sam Skwarlo (160) and junior Sterling Ozark (285) will represent the Firebirds at state.
Gillman said Skwarlo, a regional champion, has a good shot at medalling, as does Ozark, who finished third at Free State’s regional tournament.
“They just have to go out and wrestle, and hopefully they do well,” the coach said, adding some of the other FSHS wrestlers will have to contend with stacked brackets.
No. 1 Garden City enters state as the favorite to win the team title. Naughton thinks No. 2 Junction City, No. 3 Derby and No. 4 Manhattan have a shot, too, and he hopes LHS can crack the top five.
“It’s gonna be one of those things where everybody’s gotta help each other out,” he said.