Olathe Lawrence High’s wrestling team won’t walk into the Sunflower League championship at 9 a.m. today with the high ranking that it had last year.
Instead, the Lions are hoping to surprise some teams with their own expectations in the tournament at Olathe North.
“We want to finish in the top half, for sure,” LHS coach Pat Naughton said. “Going by the seeds and everything so far, it looks pretty good. We have four open (weight classes) going in. That’s going to hurt us. But everybody seems to be in the same boat as we are.”
Sophomore Alan Clothier, the top-ranked wrestler at 182 pounds in Class 6A in the latest Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association poll, hopes to defend his league title.
“I’m going to go in there with the same mind-set that I had last year,” Clothier said, “to win it and just to go in there and wrestle my butt off.”
Clothier has won several tournaments this season and may face defending state champion Shawnee Mission Northwest’s LaPhonso McKinnis, who he beat twice last year.
Senior Alex Jones (285), ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, and Ryan Bellinger (170) are also expected to contend for titles in their weight classes.
“I feel very confident in my friend Ryan,” Jones said. “I feel like we are at the same skill level, and we have the same amount of threat to the competition. I feel like we have a much better chance at achieving our goals than last year.”
The Lions are also hoping for big contributions from Xavier Kenney (106) and Isias Rojo (160) to improve their team score. Kenney has missed half the season due to injuries.
Meanwhile, Free State High’s wrestling team is looking to build off recent tournament success despite battling injuries.
The Firebirds will be without senior Colton Steele (160), ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, who has been out sick.
“It’s just a matter of trying to survive this whole season and stuff,” Firebirds coach Mike Gillman said. “We got banged up. We’re limping in a little bit with some injuries, but I expect my kids to produce pretty well. Last weekend we had a great tournament so I think we’re going to build off that.”
With Steele out, the Firebirds will look to Tyler Sampson (285) and sophomore Sam Skwarlo (170) for strong contributions. Skwarlo is also hoping for a chance to get some payback from a sudden-death loss earlier this season.
“He’s got a little revenge factor against a senior at Lawrence High (Bellinger) that he kind of wants to go against,” Gillman said. “I expect him to do really good things.”