All of the athletes on Free State High’s girls track and field team know they have a chance to repeat as state champions this weekend.
They also prefer not to talk about it.
The Firebirds don’t want to add any pressure by chatting about it or overthinking it, as their quest for a second straight Class 6A state title starts at 8 a.m. today at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.
“It’s something that I think a lot of people are expecting us to do,” FSHS coach Jordan Rose said. “We kind of have a lot of pressure on us to do that. … It’s one of those things where we’re still going to have to put in our best effort, and everybody needs to have their best day to make this happen for us, which obviously we can do.”
Free State won a Sunflower League and regional title earlier this season, and the girls place a lot of pride into their success as a team.
“We definitely pay attention to it all,” said senior Molly McCord, who qualified in the 800 and 4x800 relay. “We did it last year, so it would be cool again to do it this year. Everybody kind of knows what they need to do to make that happen again.”
The Firebirds are loaded with talent in every area — throws, hurdles, sprints and distance. Senior Alexa Harmon-Thomas has the top seed time from regionals in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, while junior teammates Kiara Clark and Gabbi Dabney are right behind her in both events.
“It’s just amazing,” Clark said. “I’m really happy we all made it in all of the events this year. It’s Alexa’s last year, and it’s just going to be really, really special for all of us to run together in both of those.”
Bailey Sullivan, Claire Sanner and Emily Venters are contenders to win in distance races, while senior Scout Wiebe is seeded third in the javelin.
Free State’s boys team has plenty of confidence after taking third place at regionals.
“We do take a lot of pride in that,” senior Lucas Werner said. “We’re out here every day working in the hot sun together and trying to get better. If one person does good, that means we’re all doing something right because we’re out here to push each other and make ourselves better.”
Rose added: “I think that was a big boost for the boys. We saw a lot of people really step up and have some good performances at regionals. Like I’ve said, the boys team has been consistently getting better and better as the season has progressed.”
Senior Trevor Hillis was the only pole vaulter to clear 14-6 at regionals, while Stan Skwarlo could medal in the 800. The Firebirds’ 4x800 relay team owns the fastest time in 6A this year, and Werner hopes to improve from his 11th place finish at state last year in the javelin.
Lawrence High’s girls track and field team is hoping to add more trophies to its collection after winning regionals last week.
The Lions qualified at least one girl in all seven field events and several more in track events.
“We had a great regional meet,” LHS coach Jack Hood said. “We’re really excited for the numbers we were able to qualify. We’ll see what we can do at state. It’s neat to have this many kids together. If a team is anything, you hope at some point in the season they realize they’re competing not just for themselves but for each other.”
Matia Finley will look to defend her state championship in the discus, as she and her twin sister, Rebecca, are expected to be among the leaders in the discus and shot put. The Lions’ 4x400 relay team will also try to defend its state title.
There are three sophomore athletes who are new to the LHS team this year and earned a trip to state. Caroline Dykes won a regional title in the girls javelin and qualified in the high jump. Amani Bledsoe made it in the boys shot put, and Logan Shields earned a spot in the boys high jump.
“Logan Shields was a kid we kind of got off the bench,” Hood said. “I saw him playing in intramural basketball, and I (thought), ‘That kid can jump.’ Now he’s a 6-foot-2 high jumper. All three of those kids had amazing talent, and my coaches were able to get enough out of them to get them to state.”
Sophomore JD Woods and senior Erik Parrish were the only LHS boys who earned a spot at state last year. They’re back, and now there’s quite a few more.
“This year it kind of snowballed,” Hood said. “We had some stuff go right, and by the end of the meet, we qualified 10 boys and a relay. We’re going to score more than five points, I hope, at state.”