On the first day of practices and tryouts for winter sports Monday, most of the Lawrence High and Free State athletic programs continued to see a large number of athletes.
For Free State’s boys basketball team, that meant around 35 players filling up the school’s gymnasium, and that was only freshmen. Third-year coach Sam Stroh expected a similar number of players when the upperclassmen began tryouts in an evening session.
“We like this group,” Stroh said of the freshmen. “They’re good players, and coachable. We’ve known them now for three years in terms of coming to camp in the summertime and playing in the middle school league.”
The Firebirds only have one freshman team, which will lead to sizable cuts by Wednesday — “the only bad part about the job when you have to make that decision,” Stroh said.
Across town, Lawrence’s boys basketball team had a larger-than-usual group of upperclassmen competing for spots in tryouts.
In a similar setup to Free State, the Lions have upperclassmen practice in one session and the freshmen in another separate session.
“My first reaction is good numbers and a lot of really good kids,” LHS coach Mike Lewis said. “It looks like we’ve got some good basketball players. A pretty nice way to start your year.”
Lawrence’s boys swimming and diving team had one of its largest teams in recent years last season and will enter the 2017-18 season with about the same numbers.
The Lions had 41 swimmers on the first day, which included about 10 freshmen.
“They came back and it’s always better the second year,” Lawrence coach Kent McDonald said. “Every year they get better, so it should be really good.”
Free State’s boys swimming team had 36 members, plus nine freshmen, for its first practice Monday, which is among its largest groups in the past few years.
What’s led the rise in the city’s number of swimmers?
“I think the boys recruit each other from other sports,” FSHS coach Annette McDonald said. “I think other guys bring their friends on and they are excited about it.”
Free State’s wrestling team will open the season ranked No. 6 in Class 6A, and its recent success has only led to more wrestlers joining the team.
The Firebirds had about 40 kids for practice Monday, which features a large group of freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s kids that want to be here,” FSHS coach Mike Gillman said. “It’s not just showing up anymore. It’s actually being competitive with these kids. I think the seniors kind of demand that.”
Lawrence had a young squad last season and many of the newcomers have returned. Coach Pat Naughton said there were about 35 kids signed up for the first day of practice.
One bonus of having so many returners is that many of them have at least a little varsity experience.
“We’re looking to build on what we did at the start of last year,” Naughton said.
Free State’s girls basketball team, which will conduct tryouts through at least Wednesday, had around 30 nonfreshmen trying out Monday, which is up from last season.
“We’ve grown probably 10-15 kids from last year,” said coach Ted Juneau, attributing the rise to a solid core of sophomores and juniors.
Lawrence’s girls basketball program was expected to have more than 45 girls trying out this week across all levels.