Firebirds set to begin fall sports seasons

Free State fall sports athletes pictured from left are Tori Hoopingarner, golf, Jack Kelsey, cross country, Nicholas Howard, soccer, Ali Dodd, tennis, David Johnson, football, Kaliyah Townsend, gymnastics and Ashley Giago, cross country. All athletes pictured are seniors, except for Townsend, who is a junior.

After opening practices last week, Free State High’s fall sports programs have worked toward the start of their respective seasons.

A few teams are expected to contend for state titles and others are focused on building on their training from the summer.

Here is a look at all of the Firebirds’ fall sports programs:


For the past three seasons, Free State’s football team advanced to the Class 6A state semifinals.

Looking to take the next step in the postseason, there’s confidence among players that they have the right mix of veterans and newcomers.

Free State’s long list of returners includes linebackers Gage Foster, David Johnson, Jax Dineen and Bo Miller, linemen Spencer Roe and Nathan Spain, receivers Keenan Garber, Tanner Cobb and Jake Rittman, defensive back Gabe del Valle and kicker Kameron Lake.

“Coming off three consecutive semifinal appearances, our players understand what it takes to get there,” said coach Bob Lisher, entering his 21st season.

The Firebirds are hopeful they will receive a big boost from linemen Turner Corcoran, Gabe Clark and Jalan Robinson, defensive backs Malik Berry and Kwinton Lassiter, running back Zach Wilson, receiver Darius Lassiter and tight end Jack Theisen.

Aiming for a strong start to the season, Free State will travel to Shawnee Mission West on Sept. 1.


After reaching the Class 6A state tournament for the first time in more than a decade last year, Free State’s volleyball team has its eyes set on a return trip.

Bringing back a strong group of returners, the Firebirds are ranked among the top teams in the region.

The Firebirds are highlighted by Kansas commit Rachel Hickman, Murphy O’Malley, Cameryn Thomas, Erin Cushing, Mya Gleason and Kaitlyn Hamilton.

“Our seniors are just rockstars,” said first-year coach Keely Hammontree. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of seniors.”

The Firebirds will play Blue Valley West, last year’s state runner-up, at 5 p.m. Saturday at St. James Academy.

Cross Country

Free State’s girls cross country team will look to replace its top three runners after winning a Class 6A state championship last fall.

But there’s still plenty of talent to keep the program among the top in the state. The Firebirds will be led by several varsity returners: Julia Larkin, Emma Hertig, Erin Liston and Erin Fagan. Newcomers Emily Stone and Ana Riley could make an impact at the varsity level.

For Free State’s boys team, several runners return from last year’s squad, which finished seventh at state. That includes Avant Edwards, Jared Hicks, Charlie Johnson, Aidan Goertz and Grant Holmes. Brock Cordova is expected to be one of the team’s strongest newcomers.

Free State will run in the Olathe East Classic on Aug. 31.

Girls tennis

Free State’s girls tennis program sent five players to the Class 6A state tournament last season and many of them are back with more experience.

Under first-year coach Aaron Clark, the Firebirds are expected to be led by returning state qualifiers Ali Dodd, Gabby Gorman, Anna Peard and Kate Piper. In doubles, Dodd placed seventh at state last season, the highest finish by a doubles pairing since 2010.

With a large group of newcomers, Clark expects there will plenty of competition for varsity spots.

“A lot of girls with lots of ability and skills,” Clark said, “and hopefully it will pan out.”

The Firebirds start the season in the Emporia Invitational at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Boys soccer

After graduating more than 10 seniors from last season, Free State’s boys soccer team will feature a new look this fall.

But the Firebirds, under eighth-year coach Kelly Barah, are hopeful that they can build on their success when they posted an 8-8-2 record.

“Every season is so brand new,” Barah said. “It’s always an exciting time. And you get to teach new concepts, they remember old ones, so it’s nice.”

By returning Charlie Newsome, Nick Howard, Pete Junge, Jared Lieberman and Drew Covington, among others, Free State players are confident they will be reloading their varsity lineup compared to rebuilding.

Free State will begin the season on the road against Lansing on Sept. 7.

Girls golf

Free State’s girls golf team placed 11th at the Class 6A state tournament last year, but will be filled with several new faces this season.

The team’s only varsity returner is senior Tori Hoopingarner, who placed 10th in the Sunflower League and 44th at state.

Fifth-year coach Layne Meyer is hopeful that some steady contributors will emerge throughout the season.

The Firebirds open their season in the Mill Valley Tournament at 8 a.m. today at Shawnee Country Club.


There will be several new faces leading the way for Free State’s gymnastics team in the upcoming season.

The Firebirds return Monica Kimmel and Kaliyah Townsend to the varsity lineup, both of whom are expected to compete all around.

First-year coach Michelle Seidner is confident freshmen Mikyla Williams and Talia Gay will make a strong impact on the varsity squad, but said there is room for more gymnasts on the team and the biggest challenge is small number of participants.

Free State opens the season on Sept. 6 at the Shawnee Mission West quadrangular.