Firebirds eager for start of winter sports
The winter sports season will be in full swing by the end of this week.
Free State’s winter sports teams have huge expectations once again after a successful showing last year, which included a 6A runner-up finish for the boys basketball team. A pair of FSHS teams also enter the season with a ranking in their respective preseason polls.
Here is a look at what all of the Firebirds’ programs expect out of the upcoming year:
Free State lost a ton of production from last year’s team, which went to the first state championship game in program history.
The Firebirds posted a 19-6 record, including a 11-2 clip against league foes to earn a Sunflower League title. They eventually fell to Blue Valley Northwest in the 6A state title game to end a remarkable run.
Despite having to replace a majority of minutes from last year’s squad, FSHS is ranked No. 3 in Class 6A in the preseason poll by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Senior Noah Butler, a 6-foot-5 wing, is the team’s lone returning contributor. Junior DK Middleton and freshman point guard Mozae Downing-Rivers will embrace key roles for FSHS this year.
“I’m excited about our potential in two or three months, but right now, we are still learning,” fourth-year head coach Sam Stroh said. “A lot of these guys have been playing JV for one or two years, and now it is their turn.”
Free State will open the season on the road against Blue Springs at 2 p.m. Saturday in the 810 Varsity Tipoff Classic at Liberty (Mo.) High School.
After a slow start last year, the Firebirds will look to hit the ground running in the 2018-19 campaign.
Free State, which went 5-16 (5-8 Sunflower League) last year, will look to do better during the early part of the season this winter. Senior Sam Lawrence, junior CK Kesten, junior Haley Hippe and sophomore Shannon Clarke are back after starting for the Firebirds last year.
“We have a lot of people back, which means, when we put things in, it is not new,” third-year coach Ted Juneau said.
This season, Free State is emphasizing the importance of closing games after dropping key games last year.
“We lost a lot of overtime games by just falling apart in the last couple of minutes,” Clarke said. “We just have to finish strong and I think that will make a big difference.”
FSHS plays host to Blue Valley West at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Entering the season, Free State’s wrestling team is ranked No. 10 in Class 6A via the coaches poll.
The Firebirds have five wrestlers ranked in the top-six of their respective weight class, according to the preseason poll by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association. Senior Elijah Jacobs is the top-ranked wrestler in the 145-pound weight class after falling in the semifinals of the 6A state meet last year.
“I just have to keep pushing forward,” Jacobs said. “I have gotten better on my feet and my top-bottom work.”
FSHS also has four different wrestlers ranked No. 6 in their respective weight class. Junior Lou Fincher (126 class), senior Stanley Holder (160 class), senior Devin Beers (170 class) and junior Joey Eddis (182 class) all are ranked ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.
“We look pretty good,” FSHS coach Mike Gillman said. “We have a pretty good amount of returners from last year that we focused on. We have to find a leader.”
Free State begins its season at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Bishop Miege.
Free State’s boys swimming team had placed third at the 6A state meet for three consecutive seasons before last year’s fifth-place finish.
The Firebirds, who have 31 swimmers this winter, will look to get back in the top-three this year behind returners Jake Viscomi, Chad Anderson, Reilley Moore, Riley Sirimongkhon-Dyck, Finn Van Dyke and Brady Flynn.
“We are looking strong,” FSHS coach Annette McDonald said. “Our new swimmers are getting used to the yardage and sprinting.”
The Firebirds will host a meet at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Indoor Aquatic Center.