In the realm of high school wrestling, some meets just mean more than others. Any Lion or Firebird could vouch for that as both Lawrence High and Free State head into today’s City Showdown dual — 7 p.m. start at FSHS.
“It’s the battle of the city — their half versus our half,” Free State junior 145-pounder Colton Steele said. “So you really want to win to own Lawrence.”
When the rivals grapple, Lawrence junior 152-pounder Ryan Bellinger added, the gymnasium takes on a more electric feel.
“It’s the added intensity that comes with it that we enjoy,” Bellinger said. “It’s just the extra adrenaline rush that you don’t get from wrestling, like, Olathe South or some other normal team.”
The task of knocking off LHS, ranked No. 7 in Class 6A, won’t be simple for the Firebirds, their coach, Mike Gillman, noted. He said FSHS does most of its damage with its top wrestlers at tournaments, as opposed to duals.
“We’ve been wrestling awesome the last few weeks,” Gillman said, “and doing really good in the room, so honestly I think it’s gonna be a challenge, but we’re up for the challenge.”
While no Free State wrestlers are ranked by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association, the Lions have three in the top five of their respective weight classes: senior Andrew Denning (No. 1, 182), freshman Alan Clothier (No. 1, 170) and senior Caden Lynch (No. 5, 138).
With Lawrence’s depth, Gillman said FSHS grapplers need to think, “I don’t care who it is, I’m gonna wrestle as tough as I can. Nothing to lose.”
Free State’s strength lies in its middleweights, Gillman added, with Steele and senior Ben Soukup (152), but freshman Quailan Fowler (106), junior Maurice Jacobs (132) and junior Sterling Ozark (285) could also be key to the Firebirds’ success.
Though Lawrence won’t play host to the dual, LHS coach Pat Naughton anticipates a lot of Lions support in the stands, too, making for a fun atmosphere.
“It’s the only sport where you have one competitor from Free State and one competitor from Lawrence High,” Naughton said of the dual’s appeal.
Lawrence lost one of its leaders, senior Hunter Haralson, for the season due to a left elbow injury, but Bellinger expects other Lions, such as juniors Alex Jones (285) and Garrett Girard (126), to keep LHS competitive throughout its lineup.
“Our strength comes from our consistency,” Bellinger said. “We have a lot of guys who continue to work hard week in and week out and can’t accept defeat as an option.”