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Thoughts from the basketball City Showdowns; seniors mostly lead the player ratings

If you blinked, you might have missed it. For most Lawrence high school basketball teams, about one-fourth of their regular seasons are over.

But what a way to head into winter break, with another chapter of the City Showdown in the books.

Free State's girls basketball team started last season with an 0-4 record. This year, the Firebirds are 5-0. They beat Lawrence High, 59-47, behind an impressive game by sophomore Madison Piper. You can sense that they are having more fun playing this season (winning helps), and they are thriving in that loose and more relaxed environment.

Lawrence High's girls basketball team has shown a lot of potential with its young roster. It'll be interesting to see how big of strides the Lions can take during winter break when they get some extra practices under their belt.

Lawrence's boys basketball team survived a strong effort from Free State with a 39-33 victory. The Lions deserve a lot of credit for going on the road and winning a game that wasn't at all the style of game they wanted. It was their first close game down the stretch this season, and they played with poise and never panicked. That's what separates good teams from average ones.

Full confession: When people asked me who I thought would win the boys basketball City Showdown, I was predicting LHS by 20 points. I figured the Lions would go on a big run at some point, and the Firebirds wouldn't be able to recover.

Man, was I wrong. The Firebirds are playing great team defense right now (including the Mill Valley game last week), and they're going to be a lot better than most people expected this year. FSHS coach Chuck Law knows the offense needs some seasoning, but if the Firebirds continue to buy into team defense concepts, they are going to be tough to beat in the Sunflower League.

I'm also a big fan of how the Firebirds used their eat-the-clock strategy against LHS. For less athletic teams, that's the blueprint to competing with the Lions. But it's a lot harder to do than the Firebirds made it look.

In case you missed it, we're copying one of the popular features of, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends and I'm bringing back the high school ratings for this basketball season. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game.

Free State boys basketball

  1. Weston Hack, sr. — Hack carried the Free State offense, but also did a little bit of everything. He scored a game-high 18 points and just missed out on a double-double with nine rebounds. The Lions did all the could to stop him, placing their top defender, senior John Barbee, on him, but Hack still found ways to get the hoop.

    “That’s my best friend,” LHS senior Anthony Bonner said. “I’ve known him since kindergarten. That’s the smartest kid I’ve ever played against. He finds angles. He finds ways to score. He fought his butt off. He played a great game. We didn’t have an answer for him.”

  2. Hunter Gudde, jr. — He was Hack’s sidekick on offense, scoring 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting. Gudde also added four rebounds and three assists. He was matched up against LHS post players, but he’s versatile enough to guard on the perimeter or in the paint.

  3. Andrew Keating, sr. — Keating had a tough matchup against LHS junior Justin Roberts, and he did pretty well. He only had three points, as he probably hesitated on a couple of shots, but he had four rebounds and just two turnovers. He also drew at least one offensive foul with good positioning on defense.

  4. Justin Narcomey, sr. — Narcomey just couldn't get a three-pointer to fall (0 for 4), but he didn’t let that affect him on the glass, grabbing four rebounds. It seemed like the Lions had him marked pretty early to force him to shoot contested threes.

  5. Jack Raney, sr. — Raney didn’t shoot the ball well (0 for 5), but he played solid defense, drawing at least two charges.

  6. Jay Dineen, so. — He can play strong defense and cause problems for opposing forwards, but wasn't really able to contribute Friday because of foul trouble. Dineen also missed two shots.

  7. Jacob Pavlyak, so. — Pavlyak didn’t attempt a shot, but he moved the ball when he was on offense and played solid help defense.

    — Next up: 7 p.m. Jan. 2 vs. KC East. Record: 2-1.

Lawrence High boys basketball

  1. Anthony Bonner, sr. — It seemed like every time the Lions needed a big bucket, Bonner was there for an answer. Down 7-2 early in the game, Bonner scored five straight points on back-to-back possessions. In the fourth quarter, he scored six points. He also finished with three rebounds, but he did have four turnovers.

  2. John Barbee, sr. — Barbee played a solid all-around game. He scored eight points (six from the free throw line), picked up four rebounds and grabbed three steals. He was the one guarding FSHS senior Weston Hack during crunch time, and he did a great job denying him the ball on back cuts.

  3. Price Morgan, jr. — The Firebirds packed the paint, forcing the Lions to shoot from the outside. That was no problem for Morgan, who drilled two jumpers from the free throw line. He scored eight points, had seven rebounds, and did a solid job protecting the rim on defense.

    “The previous games I haven’t played as well as I would have liked to,” Morgan said. “But tonight, the City Showdown, what better night to go out, play hard, get some rebounds, get the crowd fired up? It’s great.”

  4. Fred Brou, jr. — Brou was a big lift off of the bench, scoring four points, getting seven rebounds and blocking two shots. He was a little stagnant offensively (maybe had trouble hearing plays), but he grabbed some tough rebounds in traffic giving the Lions some very valuable possessions.

  5. Justin Roberts, jr. — Roberts was hampered by foul trouble and just couldn’t get his shot going until draining a jumper in the fourth quarter. He only scored four points, but he didn’t let that stop him from playing great defense, providing good ball pressure. He also grabbed five rebounds and snagged a steal.

    Perhaps his biggest play was with a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. Bonner was trying to save an inbounds pass from a backcourt violation, and Roberts sprinted across the floor to save Bonner’s desperation pass. Roberts then found Morgan underneath the basket for an easy layup and six-point lead.

  6. Ben Rajewski, sr. — Rajewski played solid help defense, grabbing two steals, and threw his body to the ground for some long rebounds. However, he just couldn’t get anything going offensively, going 0 for 4 from the field.

  7. Anthony Harvey, jr. — With Roberts in some foul trouble, the Lions relied on Harvey for some major minutes throughout the game. He missed his only shot, but played solid defense and provided good ball control.

  8. Tae Shorter, sr. — Shorter picked up some minutes in the third quarter and grabbed a rebound, but didn’t attempt a shot.

    — Next up: 6 p.m. today vs. Barstow (Mo.) at Avila University. Record: 5-0.

Free State girls basketball

  1. Madison Piper, so. — Piper singlehandedly took control of the game in the second quarter, giving the Firebirds an 11-point halftime lead. She scored 14 of her team-high 21 points in the quarter, going 5 of 5 from the field. She finished with a double-double, grabbing 13 rebounds.

  2. Adriana Jadlow, sr. — When the Lions’ defense focused on Piper in the second half, Jadlow took advantage. She scored five straight points in the middle of the third quarter, keeping the Free State lead in double digits. She also snagged six rebounds and a steal. She just needs to improve at the free throw line (4 of 10).

  3. Sarah Coversup, sr. — Coversup was quiet in the first half, but played well in the third quarter when she wasn’t attracting as much attention in the paint. She scored 15 points (9 of those from the free throw line), but also was dominant on defense with three blocks.

  4. Cameryn Thomas, fr. — The freshman point guard never leaves the court because she’s so valuable to the team. Thomas had a tough matchup against LHS senior Marissa Pope, and she scored five points, grabbed three rebounds and dished a few assists.

  5. Morgan Gantz, sr. — Gantz entered the game in the second quarter, but ended up starting the second half because of her reliability on defense and with the ball. She scored two points on a nice baseline drive and added one rebound.

  6. Hannah Shoemaker, sr. — The senior forward scored four points and grabbed three rebounds. She was strong defensively, keeping the Lions’ forwards from catching the ball in the post.

  7. Hannah Walter, jr. — Walter didn’t attempt a shot but was strong defensively and kept the ball moving on the perimeter. She also grabbed three rebounds.

  8. Jaycie Bishop, so. — Not sure if it was nerves playing her old team, but Bishop had her worst shooting night of the season. She had a couple of airballs, but did dish an assist to Jadlow in the first quarter.

  9. Calli Bowen (so.), Sophia Jadlow (so.) and Caroline Patton (fr.) — All of them entered in the final minute of the game when the Firebirds were running out the clock.

    — Next up: 5:30 p.m. Jan. 6 vs. Shawnee Mission East. Record: 5-0.

Lawrence High girls basketball

  1. Marissa Pope, sr. — Pope did her best to keep the Lions in the game, scoring eight of her team’s 13 points in the second quarter when FSHS sophomore Madison Piper was on a scoring spree. She drove and shot the ball well, scoring a game-high 22 points while grabbing three boards. Foul trouble probably cost her a chance of making a bigger impact defensively.

  2. Skylar Drum, so. — In the second half, Drum was matched up with Piper, who is four inches taller than her. Drum didn’t let her do much, denying the ball and forcing her to give it up when she caught it. Drum didn’t shoot the ball well (1 of 7) but grabbed six rebounds and two steals.

  3. E’lease Stafford, fr. — Stafford played well with nine points and six rebounds, and didn’t look like a freshman playing on the big stage during the City Showdown.

  4. Madison McKinney, so. — She did a little bit of everything to help her teammates play better on Friday. McKinney only scored two points, but dished two assists and grabbed five rebounds. She also played good defense on the perimeter.

  5. Alexis Boyd, jr. — She had a strong first quarter, scoring four straight points within 30 seconds. But Boyd didn’t make much of an impact afterward on offense, but did a solid job forcing Free State post players to take contested shots.

  6. Olivia Lemus, so. — Lemus, once again, provided a nice spark off of the bench. She drilled a three-pointer, grabbed three rebounds and a steal.

  7. Matia Finley, sr. — She scored two points, a layup at the end of the first quarter. Finley also played good defense in the first quarter, disrupting Free State shots in the paint.

  8. Devon Spoonhunter, jr. — Spoonhunter had a tough matchup against FSHS senior center Sarah Coversup, and struggled from the field, missing all seven of her shots.

  9. Talima Harjo, fr. — She made a few freshman mistakes, like stepping over the end line on a sideline out of bounds pass. Harjo scored two points but also had two turnovers.

  10. Gracie Reinsch, jr. — Reinsch is starting to pick up a little more playing time. She didn’t record any stats in the City Showdown besides a few fouls, but her aggressiveness defensively isn’t going unnoticed.

  11. Rebecca Finley, sr. — Finley entered at the end of the game and didn’t record any stats.

— Next up: 5:30 p.m. Jan. 6 vs. Leavenworth. Record: 1-4.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.

Reply 2 comments from Bobby Nightengale Steve Jacob

Lawrence High girls hoops grabs first win and Pope leads player ratings

The wait was a little longer than they were probably hoping for, but Lawrence High girls basketball players picked up their first win of the season on Monday night.

The Lions jumped to a big lead and were the dominant team against KC Wyandotte in a 52-15 victory. They were happy with the win, of course, but you get the sense that they are buying into coach Jeff Dickson's process and are focused on bigger things.

I think they are a better team than they are getting credit for, despite their 1-3 record, but it'll be fun to see if this win has any carryover. Next up is the City Showdown at Free State, where the Lions are looking for their first win against their city rival since March 2009, when LHS beat them in the sub-state playoffs.

"We're excited. There's a lot of hype for this game," senior point guard Marissa Pope said. "Everyone's talked about we haven't beat them in a while, but I guarantee this Friday will be a good game."

In case you missed it, we're copying one of the popular features of, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends and I'm bringing back the high school ratings for this basketball season. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game.

Lawrence High girls basketball

  1. Marissa Pope, sr. — She set the tone for the game with the first four points and a rebound in the game’s opening minute. She scored nine points (all in the first half), added five rebounds, dished four assists and grabbed two steals.

  2. Alexis Boyd, jr. — Off of the bench, Boyd made her first three shots, and was strong with the ball throughout the night. She had a game-high 10 points to go along with five rebounds and a block.

  3. E’lease Stafford, fr. — She had a few freshman mistakes with a pair of traveling calls, but also looked like a veteran when she shot the ball. Stafford finished with eight points, including a pair of threes, and one steal.

  4. Matia Finley, sr. — Finley was the one of the first ones off of the bench and she brought a ton of energy. She snagged a game-high 11 rebounds and played solid defense with two steals and a block. She missed some shots in the paint (1 of 5), but that didn’t affect how she crashed the boards.

  5. Skylar Drum, so. — She didn’t shoot the ball great, going 3 for 10 from the field, but Drum played great defense, snagging three steals and getting five rebounds. She also didn’t have a turnover, and did a good job running the offense.

  6. Olivia Lemus, so. — Lemus provided a spark off of the bench, scoring seven points, grabbing two rebounds and adding a steal. It looks like she’s playing more confidently on offense, which is a big boost for the Lions.

  7. Devon Spoonhunter, jr. — Spoonhunter had some great plays — five rebounds and two assists — and some not so great with two turnovers. She also scored four points.

  8. Madison McKinney, so. — McKinney didn’t have her best day shooting, going 0 for 5 from the field. But she still grabbed three boards and had a steal.

  9. Rebecca Finley, sr. — Finley scored her only basket on a pass from her twin sister at the end of the third quarter. She missed other close shots in the paint, but had four rebounds.

  10. Talima Harjo, fr. — Harjo played a little loose with the ball, and had four turnovers. But when the freshman is locked in, she plays hounding defense and is aggressive on drives to the hoop. She missed all three of her shots, but had two rebounds, an assist and two steals.

  11. Gracie Reinsch, jr. — In the final minute of the game, Reinsch drew a foul, made her first free throw, then grabbed the offensive rebound after missing the second, and drained a jumper. Three points and two rebounds on the night.

  12. Madison Mask, jr. — Mask entered the game in the final minutes, but didn’t shoot the ball.

    — Next up: 5:30 p.m. Friday at Free State. Record: 1-3.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Bonner leads LHS boys hoops in BV Shootout player ratings

Lawrence High's boys basketball team survived its first tough test of the season.

Not to discount any of the Lions' other wins, but this time they weren't shooting that well, just about everybody was in foul trouble, and they were playing in a true road environment.

Despite all of that, they found a way to win, beating Blue Valley, 63-60, to claim their first championship in the Blue Valley Shootout since 2005.

The biggest thing about the Lions' performance on Saturday was that everyone stepped up when they were called upon. Anthony Bonner, Justin Roberts and John Barbee combined for all 15 points in the fourth quarter. Anthony Harvey, Tae Shorter, Logan Applegate, Kyle Hoffman and Jackson Mallory played well off of the bench, especially in the first half. Price Morgan, Ben Rajewski and Fred Brou made plays when they had to before falling into foul trouble.

Everybody mentioned it was an 11-player effort to win that championship game, and it's going to take all 11 of them if the Lions are going to reach their state title aspirations.

In case you missed it, we're copying one of the popular features of, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends and I'm bringing back the high school ratings for this basketball season. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game.

Lawrence High boys basketball

  1. Anthony Bonner, sr. — Bonner was limited by foul trouble throughout the game, but he was so dominant in stretches that he made up for it. At the end of the of the first quarter, he scored 7 straight points, including a layup-and-the-foul bucket. In the third quarter he scored nine of his game-high 23 points. He played well all weekend and lifted the Lions’ offense when they needed scoring.

  2. Justin Roberts, jr. — He started real cold from the field, making just 1 of his first 8 shots. But he was the only starter who avoided foul trouble for most of the game, and in the final two quarters, he finally made his mark. He scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half, grabbed three rebounds and dished two assists.

  3. John Barbee, sr. — Foul trouble made it tough for him to play his usual style of defense where he grabs so many steals, but he crashed the glass for nine rebounds and also scored 10 points. One of his biggest plays was with 34 seconds left, when he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with a 4-point lead, but grabbed the rebound, which later earned Bonner a trip to the line and took time off of the clock.

  4. Logan Applegate, sr. — He brought a lot of energy off of the bench in the first half when Price Morgan and Fred Brou were hurt by fouls. He scored four points and added two rebounds, a steal and a block. He wasn’t afraid to hit the ground for loose balls.

  5. Anthony Harvey, jr. — Harvey was asked to play a lot of minutes, and I thought he did a good job on the defensive end and keeping his teammates’ emotions in check with the frequent fouls. Harvey missed his only shot, a three-pointer at the top of the arc, but he grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist to Applegate for a layup.

  6. Price Morgan, jr. — Morgan made his presence known in the first two minutes of the game, grabbing an offensive rebound and making the layup, then blocking a shot on the defensive end. He also dished an assist with some nice inside-out passing.

  7. Ben Rajewski, sr. — Perhaps nobody was hit with as many questionable fouls as Rajewski on Saturday. No matter how he played, it seemed like the fouls came to him. But when he was on the court, he scored five points including a three-pointer at the beginning of the second quarter.

  8. Tae Shorter, sr. — Shorter picked up quite a few minutes in the first half because others were in foul trouble, and he played solid defense. He grabbed a steal in the first quarter, but missed a layup in traffic before Bonner followed up with a putback for points.

  9. Fred Brou, jr. — He was the first one off of the bench and started in the second half, but didn’t have a chance to make more of an impact because of fouls. He grabbed one rebound and had a block on a three point attempt, which was later called a foul for reasons not many people understood.

  10. Jackson Mallory, so. — Entered in the final minute of the first half and immediately grabbed a steal when a Blue Valley player tried to pass the ball into the paint.

  11. Kyle Hoffman, sr. — He played in about the last two minutes of the first half, and provided good defense. He didn’t record any stats, but he helped shut out Blue Valley for the last 1:43 of the first half.

    — Next up: 7 p.m. Friday at Free State. Record: 4-0.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Free State sweeps Mill Valley, Coversup and Gudde lead player ratings

Free State's girls basketball team has so many weapons on offense that it's going to be difficult for opposing teams to figure out a way to slow its offense down.

It was my first look at the Firebirds in person, a 42-40 victory over Mill Valley, and I was impressed with how efficient they looked with the ball. Madison Piper and Sarah Coversup are dangerous with the ball on drives, or can catch-and-shoot for buckets on jumpers. Jaycie Bishop is a strong deep threat when her shot is on, and Adriana Jadlow is another player you can't lose track of around the paint. Then there's Cameryn Thomas, who probably won't be asked to score a ton, but does a great job of bringing the ball up the court against pressure.

I was just as impressed with Free State's boys basketball players, who had eight days to practice since their season opener, and they certainly made the most of it. Their defense was dominant in a 59-41 win, as FSHS coach Chuck Law called it, "About as good of team defense as a Free State basketball team has played in a long time."

Not to say the Firebirds played poorly in their season opener, but I thought they were going to have more trouble against Mill Valley, even though they were without star guard Logan Koch. If they keep improving at this rate, they're going to be a lot more dangerous than most people expected in the Sunflower League.

In case you missed it, we're copying one of the popular features of, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends and I'm bringing back the high school ratings for this basketball season. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game.

I covered Free State's basketball doubleheader on Friday, and the player ratings are below:

Free State girls basketball

  1. Sarah Coversup, sr. — Coversup was dominant in the first half, as she controlled the paint. The Jaguars double-teamed her afterward, but she still made an impact down the stretch, scoring Free State’s last four points. She finished with 19 points, four rebounds and two steals. She also was 7-for-7 from the free throw line.

  2. Madison Piper, so. — She was playing sick, but that didn’t stop her from making an impact, especially in the first half when she was the focal point of the offense. She had seven points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. Mill Valley stopped her in the second half, but credit to her for playing so well without the ball and not at 100 percent.

  3. Adriana Jadlow, sr. — When Coversup and Piper were drawing all of the attention from Mill Valley’s defense, Jadlow shined. She scored eight points and added four rebounds. She also had a nice steal with her back turned, which later turned into a layup for Coversup.

  4. Cameryn Thomas, fr. — She had the difficult assignment of guarding All-Kaw Valley League point guard Jabria Leggett and still has some room to grow defensively, but she found a way to step up in some of the game’s biggest moments. She hit a jumper in the paint with a two-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, and grabbed a steal a minute later. She also snagged a rebound in the final seconds, but missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw.

  5. Jaycie Bishop, so. — She played well early in the game, but never found her rhythm afterward. In the first quarter, she drained a three and dished an assist. But she finished with just four points (1 of 10 shooting), two rebounds and three assists.

  6. Hannah Shoemaker, sr. — Shoemaker played limited minutes, but provided good energy with two points and a rebound.

  7. Hannah Walter, jr. — In limited minutes, Walter didn’t record a stat, but she played solid defense when she was on the court.

  8. Morgan Gantz, sr. — She entered the game when Bishop ran into foul trouble in the first half, and made a few nice passes. She didn’t shoot or record any stats.

— Next up: 3 p.m. Saturday at Lansing. Record: 3-0.

Free State boys basketball

  1. Hunter Gudde, jr. — Not only did Gudde use his versatility to play strong defense against guards and forwards, but he did just about everything on offense. He finished with a game-high 16 points, had a team-high seven rebounds, and added three assists and two steals. When he's playing at his best, he makes all of his teammates better.

  2. Weston Hack, sr. — Hack, a 6-foot-3 guard, doesn’t seem like the type of player that is a magnet for steals. But he makes so many smart plays on defense that he just racks them up. He had six steals on Friday to go along with 14 points and five boards.

  3. Jack Raney, sr. — Raney scored eight points on 3 of 3 shooting from the field, and he might have been even better on defense. He was impressive pushing around the 6-foot-5 or taller Mill Valley post players around the paint.

  4. Jay Dineen, so. — You don’t usually see a middle linebacker look small next to someone, but that’s how big some of the Jaguars’ forwards were. For his part, Dineen held his own in the paint, battling them inside. He finished with three points, five rebounds and two assists.

  5. Justin Narcomey, sr. — Narcomey shines on offense in transition, with his ability to shoot from deep or drive inside and finish around contact. He scored nine points, and is perfect inside of the three-point arc this year (8 of 8).

  6. Andrew Keating, sr. — He did a good job of providing ball security (only 1 turnover), especially facing a full-court press for parts of the game. He scored five points and had two steals.

  7. Jacob Pavlyak, so. — Pavlyak has moments where he plays well and some where he looks like he’s just playing too fast. He didn’t score (missed a three) but he had three rebounds and an assist, setting up an easy bucket for Raney to start the fourth quarter.

  8. Darian Lewis, jr. — He’s turning into the king of garbage time. He scored four points, all at the free throw line, as the Firebirds were running out the clock in the final minutes.

  9. Caleb Holland, sr. — He didn’t attempt a shot, but did grab a rebound. He played solid defense when he came off of the bench, but also had two turnovers.

  10. Chrision Wilburn, jr. — He entered the game in the final minutes and grabbed a rebound in traffic.

  11. Sloan Thomsen (so.), Shannon Cordes (so.), Zion Bowlin (so.) — All three of them entered the game in the final two minutes, but none of them attempted a shot or recorded any stats.

— Next up: 7 p.m. Friday vs. Lawrence High. Record: 2-0.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Lawrence High senior and freshman lead the hoops player ratings

One of the main things that impresses me about Lawrence High's boys basketball team is how its weaknesses are turned into strengths.

The Lions don't have much size inside, but that means they can motor up and down the court at a very quick speed. Wyandotte tried to drive inside on them throughout Thursday's game in the Blue Valley Shootout, but the Lions forced them to play on the perimeter by packing the paint, then turned their missed jump shots into easy points in a 75-44 victory by racing down the court.

Lawrence High's girls basketball team improved one of its weaknesses from its season opener, by limiting three-pointers on Tuesday. But then the Lions fouled too much and just couldn't get into a rhythm offensively or defensively in the second half in a 57-44 loss to Blue Valley Southwest. The Lions were also outrebounded 42-28.

The girls' team is a work in progress with so many young players, but it'll be interesting to see how much they improve throughout the season.

In case you missed it, we're copying one of the popular features of, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends and I'm bringing back the high school ratings for this basketball season. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game.

I covered Lawrence High's girls basketball on Tuesday and the boys basketball team in the first round of the Blue Valley Shootout today. The player rankings are below:

Lawrence High boys basketball

  1. Anthony Bonner, sr. — Facing an AAU teammate he's played with since the sixth grade for the first time ever (Deionta Nunnally), the Colorado State signee was dominant on both sides of the ball. Bonner scored 14 points (all in the first half), while grabbing four rebounds and dishing three assists. I heard a few fans from Blue Valley talking about how fast he moves down the court in transition.

  2. John Barbee, sr. — The Lions played well defensively, and it all started with Barbee. He had a team-high four steals by closing the passing lanes. He had one play where a Wyandotte player tossed it in the air, and Barbee, with his back turned, just reached up and snagged it for a steal. He also had 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and one ferocious dunk.

  3. Justin Roberts, jr. — Roberts has a great sense of knowing when the offense is a little stagnant and finding ways to take charge. LHS missed four of its first six shots, then Roberts put his head down on a drive and earned a trip to the free throw line. The Lions then made six of their next eight shots. He went 10-for-10 from the charity stripe, picking up a game-high 16 points.

  4. Fred Brou, jr. — Brou came off of the bench and provided a lift throughout the game. He had six points, two blocks, and had his first dunk of the season in the third quarter. Bonner said that dunk, along with a three at the end of the first half by Anthony Harvey, really boosted the team: "Those are big momentum plays that we need from players like them. I love having them out there and playing with them."

  5. Ben Rajewski, sr. — He only made 2 of his 6 threes, but he played well defensively, especially on the help side. Rajewski also grabbed two rebounds.

  6. Anthony Harvey, sr. — LHS coach Mike Lewis said he looked comfortable on the court throughout the game. He was one of the first players off of the bench and drilled a three near the end of the first half. He also had two rebounds and did a good job at point guard against a full-court press.

  7. Price Morgan, jr. — Morgan didn’t have his best day shooting the ball (3 of 6), missing a few shots in the paint. But he didn’t let that affect him on the glass, grabbing six boards and he even dished an assist with some nice inside-out passing.

  8. Logan Applegate, sr. — He made some enemies with his ability to grab offensive rebounds. Applegate had five boards throughout the game and scored six points.

  9. Kyle Hoffman, sr. — He didn’t have any students chanting his name this game, but he drilled a three-pointer midway through the third quarter. He also had a nice assist, setting up a layup for Applegate.

  10. Tae Shorter, sr. — He grabbed two steals, and turned one of them into an assist, finding Bonner for a layup in transition. Shorter missed his two shots.

  11. Jackson Mallory, so. — Played a few minutes, but missed his only shot (a putback attempt). Mallory also had two rebounds.

— Next up: 6:45 p.m. Friday vs. Highland Park in the Blue Valley Shootout. Record: 2-0.

Lawrence High girls basketball

  1. E’lease Stafford, fr. — She was limited by four first half fouls, but Stafford shined when she was on the court. Scored seven points, but her best sequence was in the second quarter when she assisted a layup by Devon Spoonhunter, then grabbed a rebound on defense and took it coast-to-coast for layup.

  2. Marissa Pope, sr. — Had an off night driving and shooting the ball (0 for 8 from the field, 4 for 10 from the free throw line), but credit to her for not letting that affect her defense. Pope had three steals and caused two BVSW offensive fouls, pestering the T-Wolves’ point guards all game.

  3. Skylar Drum, so. — Drum scored five points and added three rebounds, while playing solid defense. She still needs to work on some of her passing (four turnovers), but she provides good stability on the court on both ends of the floor.

  4. Devon Spoonhunter, jr. — She always seemed to be in the right place on the offensive end, as her teammates found her for layups. Spoonhunter had a team-high nine points, but she needs to work on hitting the glass harder for rebounds and avoiding fouls on the defensive end.

  5. Alexis Boyd, jr. — She shot the ball better than her season debut, scoring eight points (4 of 9 shooting). Boyd also had a block, but needs to work on rebounding, grabbing just three boards.

  6. Madison McKinney, so. — She fits the glue player role well for this team. She had a team-best seven rebounds and scored four points, but also needs to take care of the ball a little better with six turnovers. She also dished an assist and grabbed a steal.

  7. Talima Harjo, fr. — Harjo scored five points, but didn’t seem to have the same attacking mindset that she had in the first game of the year. She also grabbed a rebound and missed her only free throw attempt. She should wind up as one of the top shooters on the team with good form on her jumper.

  8. Olivia Lemus, so. — Provided some nice energy off of the bench with three rebounds. She made a layup at the end of the game, but missed two three pointers.

  9. Gracie Reinsch, jr. — Entered the game in the final minutes, and blocked a layup. She also missed her only shot.

  10. Matia Finley, sr. — Picked up a foul in limited minutes but didn’t shoot the ball or grab any rebounds.

    — Next up: 7 p.m. Friday vs. Shawnee Heights. Record: 0-2.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Strong starts for city basketball teams and veterans lead the player ratings

After all of those workouts, scrimmages and team camps over the summer and fall, the high school basketball season is finally here.

Both the boys and girls basketball teams for Lawrence High and Free State made their debuts over the last two days.

Free State's boys basketball team routed AC Prep in Kansas City, 67-32, but the Firebirds weren't completely satisfied with how they played. The Firebirds' girls, ranked No. 10 in the preseason coaches poll, rolled past Topeka for a 61-44 victory behind 20+ points each from Madison Piper and Sarah Coversup.

Lawrence High's boys basketball team, ranked No. 1, started fast and cruised for a 64-43 victory over Emporia, while the girls team lost, 59-48, after falling into a 17-point deficit in the second quarter.

Copying one of the popular features of, "Keegan's Ratings," where Sports Editor Tom Keegan ranks KU football and men's basketball players after every game he attends, I'm bringing back the high school ratings for this basketball season. These individual rankings are just one person's opinion, but it's a good way to look at how each person impacted each game.

This week I was able to cover Free State boys hoops and both Lawrence High teams, while fellow LJWorld reporter Chris Duderstadt (you can find him on Twitter @ChrisDuderstadt) gave me his rankings and thoughts from the Free State girls game. The player rankings are below:

Free State boys basketball

  1. Weston Hack, sr. — Had a tough first quarter with a few turnovers, but dominated afterward with a team-high 15 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Also drained 3 of 5 threes.

  2. Justin Narcomey, sr. — Narcomey made an impact a little later than coach Chuck Law was hoping for, but he was the leader on fast breaks in the second and third quarters. He made all five of his shots inside of the three-point arc while grabbing three rebounds.

  3. Jack Raney, sr. — Did a little bit of everything throughout the game. He didn’t convert all of his shots in the paint, but still finished with six points, three rebounds and a steal.

  4. Andrew Keating, sr. — Keating had some trouble in the early going with the full-court trap defense, but was strong with the ball once he settled in while adding eight points and four rebounds.

  5. Hunter Gudde, jr. — He fit into the glue guy role on Thursday, grabbing six rebounds, dishing an assist and grabbing a steal while scoring four points.

  6. Caleb Holland, sr. — Holland crashed the boards hard for three rebounds and made his only shot inside of the three-point arc. If he can start getting some threes to fall (0 for 2 on Thursday), he’ll be a big asset for the Firebirds.

  7. Chrision Wilburn, jr. — Wilburn still has some things to work on defensively, but he scored four points in the paint and added five rebounds. He brought good energy off the bench.

  8. Darian Lewis, jr. — Entered the game in garbage time, but Lewis made the most of it with 6 points and 2 rebounds.

  9. Jacob Pavlyak, so. — He earned a spot in the starting lineup, but didn’t have the game he was probably hoping for. He made his only shot and grabbed three rebounds, but also had three turnovers.

  10. Shannon Cordes, so. — Cordes didn’t have his best shooting night (1 of 6). Better days are ahead for the talented sophomore.

  11. Sloan Thomsen, so. — Drained a three-pointer on an inbounds play, but missed his next one from the same spot off the same play. He also snagged two boards.

  12. Logan McKinney, jr. — Missed his only shot but McKinney did grab a rebound.

  13. Jay Dineen, so. — Entered the game in the final minute and hit a free throw before the running clock expired.

  14. Zion Bowlin, so. — Entered in the final minute and missed his only shot from the field.

  15. Mikey Corbett, jr. — Only player who stepped on the court and didn’t take a shot, but he did have a nifty behind-the-back pass in front of the Firebirds’ bench.

    — Next up: 7:15 p.m. Friday at Mill Valley

Free State girls basketball

  1. Sarah Coversup, sr. — If it were not for foul trouble, the senior transfer from Holton probably could have scored 30-plus easily, but she was very efficient (8-for-11 from the field, 4-for-5 from the line). Her impact as a vocal leader could help the Firebirds go a long way this season as well.

  2. Madison Piper, so. — Piper picked up right where she left off last season by scoring a game-high 23 points in the opener. The star sophomore drained three triples and knocked down eight of her 14 field goal attempts.

  3. Cameryn Thomas, fr. — Thomas had the primary responsibility of guarding Topeka’s Adrianna Henderson. Henderson scored a team-high 17 points, but she had to work for it with nearly every shot being well-contested. Thomas was able to rattle Henderson by drawing two offensive fouls, which helped lead to the Topeka guard fouling out with three minutes left.

  4. Jaycie Bishop, so. — Bishop played well alongside Piper in Free State’s backcourt. The Lawrence High transfer hit two of her four field goal attempts, including a three-pointer.

  5. Adriana Jadlow, sr. — The senior forward struggled from the field and the charity stripe, but she was physical on the glass and figures to help make a powerful frontcourt tandem with Coversup this season.

  6. Hannah Shoemaker, sr. — Shoemaker's leadership and unselfishness was apparent on the court Friday night. Off the court, the PA announcer mispronounced Coversup for most of the first half, saying Coverups instead. As Shoemaker was about to check in by the scorer’s table, the PA announcer slowly pronounced Coversup’s name correctly to emphasize that he caught the mistake and Shoemaker let out a laugh and gave her teammate a big ovation.

  7. Jaelyn McKay, fr. — The one area Free State did struggle at on Friday night was from the free-throw line, which is where McKay’s two points came from. She was the lone Firebird who was perfect from the charity stripe.

  8. Hannah Walters, jr. — Walters did not register a shot, but her versatility off the bench gave the Firebirds some solid minutes.

    — Next up: 7 p.m. Tuesday at Central Academy.

Lawrence High boys basketball

  1. Anthony Bonner, sr. — Sat out for some of the first quarter with two fouls, but then found his rhythm with a game-high 19 points (7-for-8 from the free throw line) along with two rebounds and two assists. He also showed once again why he's one of the team's best players at finishing in transition with fast-break points.

  2. Justin Roberts, jr. — Scored 10 straight points before going a little cold from the field. Roberts is the floor general at point guard, and is one of the better on-ball defenders. He had three steals and two rebounds.

  3. John Barbee, sr. — One of the best in the Sunflower League at stealing passes. He finished with five steals to go along with 11 points, three boards and two assists.

  4. Price Morgan, jr. — Completed a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Spartans didn’t have a guy taller than him, and he made them pay by controlling the paint. LHS outrebounded Emporia 31-24, including grabbing 13 on offensive end.

  5. Ben Rajewski, sr. — Missed his two three-pointers, but converted layups in transition. Also grabbed a steal and two rebounds. He played well as a help defender.

  6. Fred Brou, jr. — Ran into foul trouble throughout the game, but grabbed five rebounds and scored two points.

  7. Logan Applegate, sr. — Applegate, like Brou, also ran into some foul trouble. He had three boards, and made 1 of his 2 free throws at the end of the game.

  8. Tae Shorter, sr. — He grabbed two rebounds, and when he puts the pedal to the metal in transition, it’s lightning quick to watch the ball travel from one side of the court to the other.

  9. Kyle Hoffman, sr. — The crowd started chanting his name in the second quarter, but he only took one shot and missed a three pointer.

  10. Anthony Harvey, jr. — Went 0 for 2 from the field but grabbed an offensive rebound at the end of the game.

  11. Jackson Mallory, so. — Entered the game in the final minute and missed his only shot, a three-pointer.

    — Next up: 3:15 p.m. Thursday vs. Wyandotte in the Blue Valley Shootout.

Lawrence High girls basketball

  1. Marissa Pope, sr. — Pope led the Lions with 25 points, attacking the basket for layups and hitting jumpers throughout the game. She also only had two turnovers, providing the type of ball security the Lions need.

  2. Talima Harjo, fr. — Only 5-foot-5, Harjo grabbed a team-best eight rebounds and added four points. She made some freshmen mistakes with three turnovers, but brought great energy off the bench and attacked the basket for a pair of layups. Her performance is even more impressive because she wasn't sure if she was going to be able to play after taking a hard hit in Thursday's practice.

  3. E’lease Stafford, fr. — Didn’t look like her first varsity game with nine points and three boards. She seemed poised throughout the game and never seemed rattled by the speed of the varsity level.

  4. Skylar Drum, so. — Had an off night shooting the ball (1 of 6), but caused havoc defensively and grabbed three steals. Also distributed the ball well when she moved over the point guard when Pope took a breather.

  5. Madison McKinney, so. — Did a little bit of everything throughout the game, and had two points to go along with three rebounds. LHS coach Jeff Dickson said afterward that he was happy with the way she distributed the ball with unselfish play.

  6. Devon Spoonhunter, jr. — Provided some good energy off of the bench with two points and three rebounds.

  7. Alexis Boyd, jr. — Boyd didn’t have her best night shooting the ball, going 1 for 9 as she had a few just rim out. Also grabbed one rebound and had one turnover.

  8. Matia Finley, sr. — Didn’t attempt a shot when she was on the court but grabbed two rebounds.

  9. Madison Mask, jr. — Entered the game, but didn’t shoot or record any stats.

    — Next up: 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Blue Valley Southwest.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Lawrence High wrestling enters year with star power and youth

Lawrence High's wrestling team is going through a youth movement this year and probably can go down two paths this season. Either the young wrestlers step up and adjust quickly to varsity level to give the Lions success right away, or it takes a little while for them to get going, but they gain experience for the future.

The Lions will enter the year with 17 freshmen and nine newcomers that are above the freshmen level. With such a young team, there's expected to be some growing pains throughout the season.

But they still have star power with Alan Clothier, the defending state champion at 182 pounds. He went 30-1 last season and nearly earned All-American status at a postseason event in Virginia. Tucker Wilson and Cy Burghart both earned trips to the state tournament last year, while Jhon Jacob made it two years ago.

Those four wrestlers have done a good job, from what I've seen in practice, of helping the newcomers with techniques. The biggest thing for the newcomers and freshmen is to pick up that varsity experience, and any success along with it will be a bonus.

I shot video of them during a practice on Monday, as they worked on a variety of techniques, but the main point was staying low and driving through their opponent. The video can be seen below:

If you've missed any previous winter sports blog posts, including videos of their practices, you can find them below:

Lawrence High girls basketball:

Free State boys swimming:

Free State wrestling:

Lawrence High boys basketball:

Free State girls basketball:

Free State boys basketball:

Lawrence High boys swimming:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Lawrence High boys swimmers rising to new heights

One meet into the season, and this much is clear: Lawrence High's boys swimming and diving team is going to be more competitive than they have been in the past.

The talent level is up a little with a strong trio of freshmen: Stephen Johnson, Isaac Springe and Alex Heckman. Add in returners Chase Odgers, Patrick Oblon, and Ellis Springe, among others, and the Lions have the power to compete with some of the top teams.

"We had three club kids that we've never had that fast come up this year," Odgers said. "So now we have some good speed on the team that really helps us. ... I think this year it's feasible for us to actually get first in a couple meets, which would be nice. Since I've been on the squad that hasn't happened, and I don't know, it would just be nice to do a lot better at meets than we have in the past."

The Lions opened the year by taking second place at the Free State quadrangular on Wednesday. The biggest thing was that they were matching (or close to) their speeds at the end of last season. Of course, they'll shave time during the course of this year, but the fact that they started so fast will give them a lot of enthusiasm for practices and regular season meets.

"In practice, even though it's only been a couple of weeks, everyone has kind of stepped up a little bit." LHS coach Kent McDonald said. "Those three (freshmen) pushing the pace, other guys trying to stay with them, it's really moved their workouts up another level."

"The first meet was a lot of pressure because I came in, and people had high expectations," Johnson added. "Everyone carried me through it. Really it's the team. I just carried it out."

I shot video of them during a practice on Monday, as they worked on starts and did laps. The video, which can be seen below, also includes divers from both LHS and Free State, as they worked together on their routines:

If you've missed any previous winter sports blog posts, including videos of their practices, you can find them below:

Lawrence High girls basketball:

Free State boys swimming:

Free State wrestling:

Lawrence High boys basketball:

Free State girls basketball:

Free State boys basketball:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


New faces set to lead Free State boys basketball

After earning a trip to the state tournament in 2013, Free State High's boys basketball team returned a lot of seniors and familiar faces last season. It's quite the change this year, without the many recognizable faces that were on the court for last year's team that lost in the sub-state title game.

But now the keys of the team belong to seniors Weston Hack and Justin Narcomey, both who were in the varsity rotation last year. Both players were sharpshooters last year, known for the catch-and-shoot from three point land. This season, they'll be asked to do a lot more and lead some of the more inexperienced varsity players.

When most teams lose that many seniors, there's an expected drop off. But there's a chance the Firebirds could surprise some people this winter. The key will be how fast some varsity newcomers such as senior Andrew Keating, junior Hunter Gudde and senior Jack Raney can adjust to the varsity level. Then they will have to make up for their lack of interior size with strong team defense.

There's a lot of questions marks now, but it'll be interesting to see how they look when league play really gets going in January.

I shot video of them during a practice last Friday, as they did a defensive drill then worked on their transition offense. The video can be seen below:

A lot of honors and rankings were released on Monday. If you missed any, you can find them below:

--Lawrence High's boys basketball team will open the season as the top-ranked team in 6A, while Free State's girls basketball team is No. 10.

--Lawrence High football players JD Woods, Amani Bledsoe and Price Morgan, and Free State's Scott Frantz and Shane Hofer picked up first-team All-Sunflower League honors.

--Lawrence High soccer players Piper Hubbell and Ellis Springe earned All-State honors from the Kansas Soccer Coaches Association.

Also, if anyone's curious, the boys and girls basketball, along with wrestling, sub-state assignments were released Tuesday.

Lawrence High and FSHS will be in the same sub-state grouping, and the full list of teams is: Kansas City-Wyandotte, Lawrence, Lawrence-Free State, Shawnee Mission-East, Shawnee Mission-North, Shawnee Mission Northwest, Shawnee Mission South, Shawnee Mission West.

Last year, Free State was paired with the west side of the state, so they're back with familiar Sunflower League foes this year.

If you've missed any previous winter sports blog posts, including videos of their practices, you can find them below:

Lawrence High girls basketball:

Free State boys swimming:

Free State wrestling:

Lawrence High boys basketball:

Free State girls basketball:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Free State girls basketball reloads for upcoming year

Free State High's girls basketball team went 10-12 last season, losing in the sub-state title game. Probably not the year the Firebirds were hoping for but definitely no reason for panic.

But when I stopped by practice last Tuesday, there was a different vibe from their practice. Everybody seemed more loose. There were a lot of smiles and laughs. It'll be interesting to see how that translates to play on the court when games bring more pressure.

But there's a lot of reasons for the Firebirds to be optimistic this season, not just counting how they're acting in one practice. They bring back sophomore Madison Piper, who averaged more than 15 points per game and picked up All-State honors last year, along with senior forwards Adriana Jadlow and Hannah Shoemaker, and junior guard/forward Hannah Walter. All four of them played big minutes in the varsity rotation last year.

Now add in sophomore Jaycie Bishop, a sharpshooting guard who transferred from Lawrence High, and senior Sarah Coversup, a strong and talented forward from Horton. That's two more players with varsity experience who can help the Firebirds this season.

Free State is ranked No. 10 in the preseason coaches poll for Class 6A, and the Firebirds definitely have the pieces to make a strong run. If they're playing loose and having fun, it might even take their game up a level, which could be a scary thing for a lot of opponents.

I shot video of them during a practice last week, as they worked on cutting without the ball on offense. The video can be seen below:

For the curious minds, the winter sports preview for Free State will appear in Tuesday's newspaper. Lawrence High's preview likely coming on Wednesday. Plenty more preps coverage coming in print (and online) this week.

If you've missed any previous winter sports blog posts, including videos of their practices, you can find them below:

Lawrence High girls basketball:

Free State boys swimming:

Free State wrestling:

Lawrence High boys basketball:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Big expectations and talent for Lawrence High boys basketball

No other winter sports team in Lawrence, and probably very few in the state of Kansas for that matter, are placing the level of expectations on themselves like Lawrence High's boys basketball team.

That said, not many basketball teams can match the depth and talent level of the Lions this season. LHS returns 88 percent of its scoring from last year's 17-5 team that lost in the sub-state title game.

During the summer, several LHS players said it was state-title-or-bust this season. It's hard to match those expectations, but you can't fault them for dreaming big. Senior Anthony Bonner, a Colorado State signee, highlights a loaded set of guards, along with junior Justin Roberts, senior John Barbee and senior Ben Rajewski.

Add in a front court with junior center Price Morgan, junior Fred Brou and senior Logan Applegate, along with anybody else who enters the varsity rotation this season, and you can see why the Lions have so much enthusiasm.

Every team strives to have family atmosphere, creating the chemistry that leads to wins. From personal experience, I think chemistry can play a huge role as each team goes through the ups and downs of a season. That said, I don't think there's a closer knit of teammates than Lawrence's basketball team, especially after leaning on each other when former assistant coach Kermit Aldridge died in March. The Lions dedicated this upcoming season to Aldridge and I think you can see that they genuinely enjoy playing alongside one another in games and practices through the way they play.

I shot video of them during a practice on Monday in the dreaded small gym, as they went through shooting and defensive drills. The video can be seen below:

Not a Kansas story (at least not yet), but one I thought was worth sharing because it could have implications for high school football in the future.

A former high school quarterback in Illinois has filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association (similar to the KSHSAA) saying it didn't do enough to protect concussions in the past and it doesn't do enough now.

It's the first time a class action lawsuit has been filed against a governing body over high school sports (though similar lawsuits have happened in college and in the NFL).

What does this mean for Kansas? Not sure yet, but it could lead to a similar lawsuit, especially if the one in Illinois is successful. But it will be interesting to see how this lawsuit plays out because it could have a big impact on concussion protocols in the future.

If you want to read more, here's the Associated Press story:

If you've missed any previous winter sports blog posts, including videos of their practices, you can find them below:

Lawrence High girls basketball:

Free State boys swimming:

Free State wrestling:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Plenty of youth and enthusiasm for Free State wrestling

Free State High's wrestling team only brings back one wrestler who placed at the Class 6A state tournament last season. But there are high hopes that number will increase this season.

Junior Sam Skwarlo, who finished 4th at state at 170 pounds last year, is the leader of the team, though he's still recovering from Lisfranc fracture in his left foot, an injury he suffered in Free State's first football game this fall. He's hoping to get good news from doctors in the middle of December to return to the mat, and opens the season ranked No. 4 at 170 pounds.

The Firebirds will also have freshman Tate Steele, who won a USA Wrestling Preseason National Title at 106 pounds for 9th and 10th graders a few weeks ago in Iowa. He's entering the season as the top-ranked 6A wrestler by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association at 106 pounds.

After using a young lineup last year, there's a lot of experienced wrestlers who could make a big jump in success this season. It'll be interesting to see how many of them can make big strides throughout the year. There's also plenty of newcomers, and any of them could surprise.

I shot video of them during a practice on Tuesday in their crowded wrestling room, as they worked on staying low and faking dives. The video can be seen below:

If you've missed any previous winter sports blog posts, including videos of their practices, you can find them below:

Lawrence High girls basketball:

Free State boys swimming:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Free State boys swimming prepares for opening meet

Free State High's boys swimming and diving team is less than a week away from its season-opening meet, the FSHS quadrangular on Wednesday.

There's plenty of reasons for the Firebirds to be excited about the upcoming year. Sophomore Jordan Portela won state titles in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, while senior Josh Terrell (200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke) and senior Jack Ziegler (50 freestyle) finished in the top-10 of their events at state.

So the talent is there (though the boys that swim on club teams won't start practicing and competing with the team until January). They took third in the Sunflower League and fifth at state last year, and have a solid chance to improve those finishes.

The big key will how much they can speed up from last season and lower their times throughout the year. We'll begin to find that out next week.

I shot some video of their practice on Tuesday as they did laps and worked on their starts, which can be seen below:

Some quick notes on some former Free State athletes:

--Kennedy Kirkpatrick has averaged 4.3 minutes per night through three games for Bowling Green University's women's basketball team. She's still searching for her first basket of the season but has recorded an assist and steal.

--Missouri State swimmer Canaan Campbell took 11th in the 200 backstroke and 14th in the 400 IM at the Louisville Invitational last weekend.

--University of Texas heptathlete Alexa Harmon-Thomas was mentioned in a video by Texas track and field assistant coach Ty Sevin, who focuses on the field events. You can view the video here:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


A new era for Lawrence High girls basketball

Ever since Jeff Dickson introduced himself to Lawrence High's girls basketball players as the new coach on May 19, you can sense there's been a change in the program.

The Lions are practicing at a faster pace. They had rigorous summer workouts at very early times in the morning. Players are held more accountable about showing up to practices and workouts.

That's not to say former coach Nick Wood, who left for a teaching job in Oman, didn't push his team in practice. But Dickson's practice have been more rigid and have definitely raised a level of intensity.

How will those changes play out on the court this year? I'm not sure, but it will be interesting to watch them early in the season. They didn't win many games at team camps over the summer, but that's when they had just started to learn Dickson's style of coaching. Dickson earned Sunflower League co-Coach of the Year honors last year, leading Shawnee Mission Northwest to a state tournament berth.

It definitely will be a process, but the Lions have some talented pieces returning from last year's team that had a 6-15 record. Senior point guard Marissa Pope will be the leader on both ends of the court, while sophomore shooting guard Skylar Drum played well at the end of last season, and senior forward Matia Finley provides good height.

I stopped by practice on Monday and shot some video of them running full-court drills, which can be seen below:

Some quick notes on some former Lawrence athletes:

--Former Lawrence High basketball star Dorian Green is averaging 13.1 points per game for Swans Gmunden, a professional basketball team in Austria that plays in the Austrian A-League. Twelve games into the year, he's second on the team in points per game, but has a team-best 4.3 assists per game while also adding 3.4 rebounds per night. His team has a league best 10-2 record.

--As reported on, former Free State pitcher Cody Kukuk, now a minor leaguer for the Boston Red Sox, was arrested last week in Long Beach, Calif., on outstanding robbery warrants out of Kansas. You can read more here:

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. As the winter sports season nears, I'll try to put up a blog post each day. Coming tomorrow night: video from Free State boys swimming team's practice.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Fall Sports Seasons in Review - Part II

When Free State's football team dropped its record to 2-3 in the middle of the season, with a difficult district schedule upcoming, not many people thought the Firebirds would wind up in the Class 6A state semifinals.

Maybe everyone should have seen more potential all along, with two of those early season losses against Olathe North and Shawnee Mission East. But the Firebirds proved their doubters wrong, ripping off a six-game winning streak, and dominating against some of the top-ranked teams in the state.

Of course, there was a lot of disappointment after a 42-14 loss to Hutchinson on Friday, but it was a playoff run that many of them will look back on with pride in the future.

"It’s the worst," senior running back and linebacker Carson Bowen said after the loss. "This is the worst feeling I’ve had so far. But we had a good year. We had a good run."

The Firebirds' defense, when healthy, was one of the top units in the Sunflower League. They had strong pass coverage with senior cornerbacks Joel Spain and Andrew Keating, while linebackers Bowen, Jay Dineen, Zion Bowlin, Paul Bittinger and others combined with the defensive line of Shane Hofer, Michael Georgie, Jalen Galloway and Blake Murray to stop the run.

On offense, junior quarterback Bryce Torneden became the fifth player in the league since 2000 to record more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing (according to Eli Underwood of the Sunflower League Football blog). With a veteran offensive line, Hofer, Scott Frantz, Coleman Houk, Josiah LeBrun and Tanner Liba, they opened a lot of running lanes throughout the year for the team's posse of running backs.

"Great group of guys. We’re all friends with each other," Frantz said. "A lot of fun in the four years. I don’t think any of us have any regrets. All of us worked hard. It’s just hard to end happy."

Several Free State seniors noted that the team will be good again next year. Impressive that they were thinking of their younger teammates just minutes after their final high school football game. But I also think they're right. With so many midseason injuries, younger guys probably got more playing time than they were expecting and that should help them pick up where they left off.

Meanwhile, Lawrence High's football team also made it through a tough district, but was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by SM East, who will play Hutchinson in the state title game on Saturday.

The Lions always appeared that they were on the verge of success against top teams, but just fell a few plays short. Against Olathe South, the clock ran out on a huge comeback after a disastrous first half. Versus Olathe North and SM East, drives getting stopped at the goal line crushed upset bids.

Lawrence was led offensively by junior running back JD Woods, who led the league in rushing before the playoffs began. On defense, junior defensive end Amani Bledsoe led the league in sacks, and junior linebacker Price Morgan was second in the league in tackles. Overall, the Lions started around 15 underclassmen on both sides of the ball.

“Next year’s their year,” senior Cy Burghart said. “But it felt great for us to go out by getting to this point this year."

Though many people are looking forward to next season, as LHS will likely be considered one of the league favorites with so many returners, a few seniors made some key contributions throughout the year. Nyle Anderson was one of the top kick returners in the league, Luke Zenger stepped up at cornerback by the end of the year, Burghart and Stevin Hays made key tackles at linebacker, Cole Greenwood and Stephen Garcia were key parts of the offensive line, and Dearion Cooper made several huge plays at safety. But for the non-seniors, next year is one they're hoping to dominate.

“It was good for us to get here, just to see what a playoff atmosphere was like,” Woods said after the first-round playoff loss. “And we’re going to work harder than ever over the offseason so we can make a title run next year.”

Free State senior Joel Spain gets held up by Hutchinson's Gabe Ragioza on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.

Free State senior Joel Spain gets held up by Hutchinson's Gabe Ragioza on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. by Richard Gwin

Free State's boys soccer team was another team that outmatched most people's expectations.

The Firebirds earned a trip to the sub-state championship game before losing to Olathe East, who ended up winning the 6A state title.

The season saw a few ups and downs, as the Firebirds started with a 7-3-1 record before losing three straight and four of their last five in the regular season. But they were able to go on the road and pick up a playoff victory over Lawrence High.

There wasn't one FSHS player for opposing teams to focus on. The Firebirds had 15 seniors and the veteran lineup showed they could play a strong possession-style offense with many different scorers.

"This group, I can’t say enough about them," FSHS coach Kelly Barah said. "Finding the words right now, right after the game, is kind of hard. But the individuals that have given every single thing to the program, they’ve done it the right way, they are just quality individuals that are ready for the real world and I’m so proud of each and every one of them."

The Firebirds lose a lot of talented seniors, including Tyler Bryant in net, Buzz Walter, Randall Schmidt, Chaska Rocha and Nicholas Larkin on defense, and Daniel Clarke, Carson Gilliland, Briceson Junge and Daulton Sharp on offense, among others. But with a strong group returning, led by Will Laufer, Eduardo Carballido, Jordan Patrick, Heitor Nazareth, Isreal Lumpkins and Ernesto Hodison, the future is bright after a successful year.

"Super proud (of the season)," Schmidt said. "At least reaching here (in the sub-state title game) was one of my goals coming in and it’s great to come out with that."

Lawrence High's boys soccer team started fast with a 6-2-1 record before winning just two of its last eight matches.

The Lions were dealt with some injuries at the end of the season, but just couldn't get back into that early season rhythm when they were playing some of their best soccer.

They also lose a talented senior class of goalkeeper Andrew Ornburn, defensemen Matt Mantooth, Ellis Springe and Jake Jimenez, midfielders Jared Roush, Zach Alexander, Alex Mwithiga, Sam Clark and Logan Hawley, and forwards Jakob Burdett and Sam Stephens.

"They came out here and worked hard and made a great season out of it," LHS coach Mike Murphy said. "It’s only the third time that Lawrence High has ever hosted a playoff game, so these guys can notch that as a victory for them as far as the season goes.

"We want to build a winning program, so these guys contributed to that. They’re keeping with it."

Despite losing 13 seniors, the Lions are hoping to build for a successful future around defensemen Brennan Davies and Sam Dykes, midfielders Piper Hubbell and Charlie Carr, and forwards Cain Scott and Avery German-Martinez.

"Guys like Charlie Carr have been able to come in as a role player who scored four goals for us," Murphy said. "We’re trying to get him up and get him some looks. Cain is going to be a superstar and is getting quite a few minutes in there at forward. ...We’ll reshape ourselves and come back ready to go again next year."

Shawnee Mission South goal keeper Zak Boxler, right, pulls the ball off of the top of Lawrence High sophomore midfielder Charlie Carr's (15) head during their soccer match Thursday at LHS.

Shawnee Mission South goal keeper Zak Boxler, right, pulls the ball off of the top of Lawrence High sophomore midfielder Charlie Carr's (15) head during their soccer match Thursday at LHS. by John Young

Despite finishing as top-four teams at state, Free State's cross country teams were a little disappointed with their final race.

After winning Sunflower League titles and regional championships, the Firebirds were hoping to take home some more first place hardware.

But they still accomplished plenty. Sophomore Emily Venters led the girls team to second place at state by winning her second straight state championship. Venters won every race she raced in this year.

The girls also got a boost from sophomore Kiran Cordes, who took sixth at state, and junior Claire Sanner, who finished 29th. They are set to contend for a title again next year. Junior Liv Lyche took 34th at state and junior Rachel Witt was 92nd. However, they'll lose seniors Marlee Yost-Wolff and Allyson Hertig. Yost-Wolff improved throughout the year and finished 36th at her first state race.

“I feel like we did our best, and our best was second,” Venters said. “If we all put out our best effort, it’s what we got. I know next year that we can repeat winning again.”

The boys team took 4th place, but were dealt some tough cards as senior Ryan Liston, a league and regional champion, couldn't finish the state race because of illness.

But it probably shows how deep the Firebirds' boys team was, running without their top runner, and still finishing as a top-five team. Junior Ethan Donley took 6th, junior Tanner Hockenbury was 17th and senior Thomas Becker finished 23rd. Senior Colton Stallard, senior Connor Ballenger and senior Curtis Zicker also contributed to the team throughout the year.

The boys' cross country team returns good talent with Donley and Hockenbury, but they'll need some more young runners, who raced mostly at the JV level, to make big strides throughout the offseason to compete for a state title next season.

Lawrence High's cross country teams were plagued with injuries, and just never found a rhythm.

The boys' team took 11th at league and 6th at regionals, while the girls took last at league and 7th at regionals.

Junior Nathan Pederson was the lone state qualifier, finishing 92nd. But the boys also have some talent for the future with freshman Carter Shook and sophomore Garrett Prescott.

The girls' team was led this year by junior Shaye White and senior Shelby Ward.

Free State High School cross country runner Emily Venters, foreground left,  leads all runners at the start of the girls Sunflower League championships Saturday at Rim Rock Farm. Venters led the whole way winning the event.

Free State High School cross country runner Emily Venters, foreground left, leads all runners at the start of the girls Sunflower League championships Saturday at Rim Rock Farm. Venters led the whole way winning the event.

I posted the seasons in review for volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf and gymnastics earlier this month. It can be found here:

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Football Game Tape: Week Nine

When districts started, not many media members and websites predicted Free State and Lawrence High football teams were going to get a spot in the state playoffs. Yet, here they are.

When the Firebirds were lined up with two ranked teams in their district, they beat both, showing strong offense and defense in the process to winning a district title for the third straight year. I remember at the beginning of the year when they had to talk about replacing last year's seniors and everything they did, but this year's team proved they have the pieces to accomplish what they did.

The Lions proved they were ready to shock some people when they beat Olathe Northwest. After a loss to Olathe North two weeks ago, they took care of business against Olathe East in an impressive team victory with touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams. Their senior class hasn't won much in the past, but they changed that this year.

Here's how the districts finished:

District 4: Olathe North - CLINCHED (2-0, +62 point differential), Lawrence - CLINCHED (2-1, +3), Olathe Northwest - ELIMINATED (1-2, -2), Olathe East - ELIMINATED (0-3, -62).

District 5: Free State - CLINCHED (3-0, +58 point differential), Topeka - CLINCHED (2-1, +16), Manhattan - ELIMINATED (1-2, -11), Washburn Rural - ELIMINATED (0-3, -63).

The Firebirds earned a spot in's rankings, checking in at No. 5 in Class 6A. They also earned the #3 seed for the west side of the state. But before we start looking ahead to next week, we'll take a look back at last week's city victories, starting with my thoughts from Free State's 53-37 win over Topeka High:

--When the offensive line gets going, there's no stopping them. Free State finished with three rushers over 100 yards, and the offensive line also gave junior quarterback Bryce Torneden plenty of time to throw in the pocket. Topeka coach Walt Alexander told his team that they looked like a JV defense at halftime, and I think that's a major credit to Free State's O-line.

--The offense has a nice mix of runs and play-action passes to keep teams off balance. The Firebirds have been working on improving their passing game, and it's easy to see. Torneden found Joel Spain for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown over the middle, and found Andrew Keating for an easy 13-yard strike in the end zone. Teams can't commit too much to Free State's read options when Torneden is a threat to throw it over the top.

--After trips to Manhattan and Topeka, Free State is ready for another home game. Not only did the Firebirds beat two previously-ranked teams, but they went on the road to beat them both, which makes it even more impressive. Free State hasn't played well at home this year, with only one win in four tries, but all of the players are eager to show their fans how much they've improved in the past few weeks.

"It’s nice because we haven’t really had the chance to show our fans at home what we can really do," senior RB and LB Carson Bowen said after last week's win. "So it’ll be nice to get back there and show them."

--Getting starters back healthy was huge for Free State's defense, but the Firebirds might have lost another starter. Senior tight end and defensive end Blake Murray was on crutches after the game and is out for the rest of the season. He's made some big stops on defense in the past few weeks, and it's going to be tough for his substitutes to fill his shoes.

Lawrence is technically the #8 seed for the East side of the state, but that has more to do with they can't align on the same side as second-seeded Olathe North, who they faced in districts. Here's a look at how the Lions got here with their 66-28 win over Olathe East:

--We're running out of adjectives to describe junior running back JD Woods. He ran for 262 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters. Coach Dirk Wedd has described Woods as a special player throughout the season, and he's stepping up in the biggest games. In the Lions' two wins during districts, Woods rushed for 556 yards and eight touchdowns.

--It was a complete team victory, with every area stepping up when needed. The defense stepped up for big stops, and the offense kept moving the ball throughout the night. Most of all, the Lions' special teams shined. Ivan Hollins returned a punt for a touchdown, Nyle Anderson returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and Ellis Springe kicked a 41-yard field goal, the third longest field goal by a Sunflower League kicker this season.

--Confidence is high for the Lions. Even after their loss to Olathe North, they were confident they could compete with anybody. In their first must-win game of the season, they stepped up and delivered. Even facing the top-seeded team in the state this week, they're not going to back down from any challenges.

Now for a look ahead to the first round of the state playoffs:

Lawrence High at Shawnee Mission East (at SM North Stadium) on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Lancers (9-0, ranked No. 1) completed their first undefeated regular season in school history. They are the best team I've seen this season, and they really haven't been challenged, winning by at least 23 points in each game and by an average of 41 points this season. They own the top rushing defense in the Sunflower League, and the top rushing offense.

Wichita Northwest at Free State on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Grizzlies (7-2) are led by their defense, which has allowed more than 14 points in only three games (two of those are losses). On offense, they have sophomore quarterback K'Veion Richard, who went from freshman football last year to varsity starter after an injury to their regular starter. Northwest also has a strong offensive line, and many weapons at running back and receiver.

At the end of the regular season, several city football players ranked among the best in the Sunflower League. Here are some facts and figures:

-Lawrence junior running back JD Woods led the league with 1,497 rushing yards on 178 carries. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry while scoring a team-high 19 touchdowns. He ran for more yards than three league teams this year (Olathe East (1492 yards), Olathe Northwest (1444), and SM North (1057)).

-Free State QB Bryce Torneden was second in the league in rushing at 1,062 yards (6.7 yards per carry), and he also took second in the league in total offense after passing for 695 yards and nine touchdowns to total 1,757 yards of offense.

-FSHS receiver and defensive back Joel Spain finished seventh in the league in receiving yards with 321 on 16 catches. He snagged four touchdowns. Spain also tied for sixth, along with senior DB Andrew Keating, with four interceptions this year, and was sixth in kick return yards, with 189.

-LHS junior linebacker Price Morgan took 2nd in the league in tackles, with a total of 120 including 45 solo. Morgan also had 10 tackles for a loss.

-LHS junior lineman Amani Bledsoe led the league with 13 sacks this year, despite missing a game because of an injury.

-FSHS senior lineman Shane Hofer tied for the league lead with three forced fumbles this season.

-LHS senior WR Nyle Anderson led the league in kick return average, 47.63 yards per return, while tying for the league lead in KR touchdowns (2). Anderson also was third in the league in punt return average, 18 yards, on just three returns.

-FSHS senior punter Tye Carter edged out LHS senior Luke Zenger for the best punting average between the two city punters. Carter was 2nd in the league with an average of 34.82 yards per punt, while Zenger took seventh with 30.26 yards per boot.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Fall sports seasons in Review - Part I

Editor's note: As the Lawrence fall sports seasons are ending, we'll start to reflect on their seasons and possibly take a look at how they will look next year. Today we'll tackle gymnastics, volleyball, girls golf and girls tennis. The breakdown for the cross country, boys soccer and football teams will come at the conclusion of the football seasons.

Free State High's gymnastics team learned of the difficulties that come with trying to defend a state championship. But that didn't stop the Firebirds from finding a way to win their second straight state title, and third championship in four years.

In the regular season, the Firebirds only won two meets, usually falling a few points behind Olathe East, who won the Sunflower League title.

"This year was a hard year, not placing above Olathe East yet since we competed against them," FSHS and Lawrence High coach Brooke Kissinger said. "The girls worked so hard during those two weeks off (in between league and state) to gain that consistency that we needed and to pull it off was awesome."

It was a banner finish for Free State seniors Grace Bartle, Carrie Howland and Haley Johnson, juniors Callie Hicks and Becca Moran, and sophomore Landon Prideaux.

For the seniors, Bartle repeated as champion on the floor and took fifth all-around, Johnson gave the team a huge lift on the beam (scoring a 9.075, placing 6th) and Howland was strong on the floor and vault.

Hicks, who was recruited by her teammates after not competing in gymnastics last year because of injuries, led the team throughout the year on the beam and bars. She competed in every event at state, and turned in key scores on the beam (8.75, 8th place), bars (9.025, 4th), and vault (9.2, 3rd).

"They definitely had a lot of teamwork today," Kissinger said after they won state. "They knew that it was going to take the whole team to do it, and there’s a reason we have five girls on every event."

Meanwhile, Lawrence High's gymnastics team just never found its rhythm as a team. There were injuries at the beginning of the season, and the Lions fell short of qualifying for state as a team.

But there were still strong individual performances. Junior Ashley Ammann took eighth at state in the floor exercise and third at league. Jordyn Leon finished in the top-20 on the bars, while Heather Wisbey and Eliana Seidner both competed on the beam at state.

Next season, if the Firebirds have all of their non-seniors return, they'll have Hicks, Moran and Prideaux from the varsity roster. They only had Morgan Rohe compete on the junior varsity at the LHS meets, so their chances at defending their title will take quite a hit.

The Lions lose two seniors — Wisbey and Elizabeth Harms — but otherwise have a bright future and should be able to make strides toward qualifying as a team at state next year.

Free State's volleyball team had plenty of ups and downs this season, but finished on a high note before losing in the sub-state finals to Olathe East, who wound up winning the Class 6A state championship.

The Firebirds started the year with a 4-8 record, then went 7-4 over the middle of the year, lost their next three matches — including a loss to Bishop Miege, which served as one of the low points of the season. Against Miege, they lost 25-7 in the third set and it led to a few players voicing their displeasure with how the season was going. Afterward, Free State had a 7-4 record to close the season.

"We need to give 110 percent effort all the time when we’re in practice," Allie Knapp said after the loss to Miege. "When we’re on and off the court, we really need to be focused on this season and what is going on because we have, what, two weeks maybe or more left? We need to give our all in it, and we should have been giving it our all since Day One. I wish we really would have."

The Firebirds lose four seniors — Paige Corcoran, Bayley Witcher-Goscha, Morgan Noll and Sydney Moreano —who all made a big impact offensively and defensively. But there's a solid group of returners, with Naomi Hickman, Emma Barberena, Peyton Gannaway and Allison Knapp up front, Lauren Johnson and Gannaway at setter, and Erin Friedrichsen as a defensive specialist.

Lawrence High's volleyball team was similar to Free State in that the Lions had several ups and downs this year. The difference was the Lions just didn't finish the season on a strong point.

After the Joan Wells Tournament in early Oct., the Lions had an 11-14 record, and were starting to compete with some of the top teams in the state. But then, they couldn't regain that success, and limped to a 2-11 record to finish the season.

The Lions will lose five seniors — Jensen Edwards, Keeli Billings, Marlee Bird, MaKayla Wagner and Cienna Sorell — but they return a strong core of varsity players including Caroline Dykes, Nez Iskandrani, and Kari Karnes at the net, Nico Kenney, Nicole Owens, and Katie Murrish as defensive specialists, and Kyleigh Severa and Laurel Bird as setters. With that group of returners, the Lions should be able to build success into next season.

Free State's girls golf team took 10th as a team at state, probably lower than they were hoping, but they completed a goal of qualifying as a team.

"Emily (Bermel) and I had kind of a serious talk right before regionals," senior Karen Campbell said. "We felt an obligation to our team to get us all to state this year, which I thought was a huge accomplishment. Even if our team score for state isn’t incredible, it’s still awesome that we’re able to make it here and have a good time."

The Firebirds were highlighted by seniors Bermel and Campbell. Bermel took 2nd in the league, and Campbell led the team at state with a 22nd place finish.

They are going to lose a big senior class consisting of Bermel, Campbell, Erin Meyers, Savannah Reeb and Sydney Buller, all of whom were on the state tournament team. Next year, they're going to lean on sophomore Anne Goebel and some junior varsity golfers to lead, but it could be more of a rebuilding year in terms of the team's success.

Lawrence High didn't have enough golfers to field a team, and were left with only one individual, senior Bonnie Reinsch. She didn't compete at regionals, and coach Kristen Samp admitted it was a tough year for her because she didn't have anyone to push her in practice all year.

At the beginning of the year, Lawrence High seniors Anna and Yelena Birt were still working on their chemistry, playing alongside each other in doubles for the first season in their high school tennis careers.

It was night and day compared to the end of the year, when the Birt twins took eighth at state. They highlighted the year for the Lions, as senior Kendall Pritchard, who took 9th in the Sunflower League at No. 1 singles, and junior Erin Ventura missed out on state by one match at regionals.

The Lions will lose some talented seniors, but they have a good group of underclassmen and their JV team had plenty of success throughout the season. The key will be finding someone to step up and headline the team, but they should be loaded with depth.

Free State coach Oather Strawderman's goal at the beginning of the season wasn't just to have some of his players qualify for state, but he wanted them in a good spot on the second day at state.

That's exactly what senior Taylor Hawkins and junior Rachel Walters did, finishing 12th in doubles. Junior Caitlin Dodd and freshman Ali Dodd also made it to state, and just missed out on surviving to the second day.

"All year long our goal was to make it to the second day of state and with that in mind we had an incredibly successful season," Strawderman said.

The Firebirds only had two seniors, Hawkins and Alyssa Raye, so they should be in a great position to have a few players qualify for the second day of state again next year.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Football Game Tape: Week Eight

After eight weeks, for a lot of football teams, all of those offseason workouts, practices, close games — everything — comes down to one game to make the state playoffs.

Free State already clinched its spot with a road victory against Manhattan, but Lawrence High will likely need to a victory to continue on.

It seems like the season just started, but here we are with playoff spots on the line.

Here's how each district looks heading into the final week of the regular season:

District 4: Olathe North - CLINCHED (2-0, +42 point differential), Olathe Northwest (1-1, +18), Lawrence (1-1, -18), Olathe East - ELIMINATED (0-2, -42).

District 5: Free State - CLINCHED (2-0, +42 point differential), Topeka - CLINCHED (2-0, +32), Manhattan - ELIMINATED (0-2, -32), Washburn Rural - ELIMINATED (0-2, -42).

But before we look too much at playoff scenarios, let's go back to last week, starting with my thoughts from Free State's 35-14 win over Manhattan:

--Free State's offense rolls when junior quarterback Bryce Torneden is doing damage with his arms and legs. Manhattan had a tough time trying to stop Torneden's read options, and when they started to stack the box with defenders, he went through the air for three touchdowns. When he's running well and throwing well, it resulted in the Firebirds scoring on four of their first five drives.

--Free State's secondary stepped up when challenged. Sophomore Zack Sanders grabbed two interceptions (and a third that was negated by a pass interference call), and senior Joel Spain added one of his own. They were as far as hitting wide receivers at the exact moment he need to. As long as Torneden is healthy (and they don’t suffer any more devastating injuries), they have an offense and a line that should keep them competitive with just about any team. Torneden’s dual threat ability is difficult to defend and that makes things easier for junior Khaury El-Amin and other FSHS running backs.

--Manhattan entered with a strong run game, but the Firebirds' defense stuffed everything. The Indians finished with just 101 rushing yards on 27 attempts (3.74 per carry). With some of their starters back on the field and healthier, you can tell they regained some of their swagger. In reality, the biggest things that helped the Indians score their two touchdowns was a roughing the passer penalty on a third-and-16 incompletion at the end of the first half, and a pass interference penalty on a fake punt to open the second half.

"There were some formations we haven’t seen, there were some plays that we weren’t familiar with and when they do that, you just have to line up and play," FSHS coach Bob Lisher said. "We missed some opportunities there, but overall, I was extremely pleased with our defense and how they played. They played hard. They just made a few mistakes at crucial times, but when you give up two touchdowns (to a team that scored 40+ last week), you have to be pleased with that."

--Tye Carter helped the defense out with a few strong punts. Twice in the second half when Free State drives stalled, Carter pinned Manhattan inside of its own six-yard line. The first led to a three-and-out and the second led to an interception by Sanders, which set up a touchdown on the next drive.

"This is my first year punting, and I’m competing with my friend at (Lawrence High) Luke Zenger for the best average," Carter said. "It feels good beating him, for sure."

Olathe North beat Lawrence High, 27-0, and here are Benton Smith's thoughts:

--There were a handful of breakdowns that kept Lawrence from really challenging one of the state’s best teams, Olathe North:
• Venus Triplett returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown.
• LHS allowed O-North to pick up a 1st down on 3rd-and-25, which set up the Eagles’ second TD.
• The Lions surrendered a 34-yard O-North TD pass on 4th-and-3.
• In the final three minutes, an LHS punt from deep in its own territory sailed straight out of bounds, giving O-North a 24-yard field.

There is such a difference in experience between these two teams that LHS needed a perfect effort to pull off an upset.

--As devastating as those plays were, Lawrence really handled the challenges of defending against O-North the rest of the game. The biggest issue in the shutout loss, of course, was moving the ball and sustaining drives. The Eagles (8-0) have held six of eight opponents this season to 14 points or less.

--Lawrence left the field feeling confident about the things it did well, which is a great sign for the final week of the regular season. And most of those positive vibes were created by the defense.
• Price Morgan forced a fumble in the first quarter.
• Amani Bledsoe and Cy Burghart teamed up to bring down Triplett for a seven-yard loss in the second quarter.
• Bledsoe absolutely destroyed the O-North O-line and sacked Eagles QB Cole Murphy for an 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
• Linebacker Konner Kelley blew up a few Eagles runs.
• The Lions’ offense was a couple of big plays away from really making O-North uncomfortable, and that’s not easy to do.

--After playing four quarters against the best, expect the Lions to look far better in their regular-season finale, vs. Olathe East.

Now for a look ahead to the final week of the regular season and last week of districts:

Free State at Topeka on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Trojans (7-1, ranked No. 4 in 6A by have a strong dual-threat quarterback with Alex Beatty, and a dominant running back Saylor Carraway, who ran for 223 yards last week. Though both teams have already clinched a spot in the state playoffs, this will determine who has a home game in the first week (top seed), and who is headed on the road (second seed).

Olathe East at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — After all of that work throughout the year, everything comes down to one game. Assuming unbeaten Olathe North beats Olathe Northwest, if the Lions win, they are headed into the state playoffs. A loss, and they're headed into the offseason. The Hawks (3-5) have lost four games in a row, but they have a streaky offense led by quarterback Chase Miller and receiver Zach Cahill. They also have a good running back, Jalen Branson.

Both of Free State's cross country teams captured a regional championship on Saturday, and have plenty of momentum going into the state meet on Friday at Rim Rock Farm.

The girls' team is the favorite to repeat as state champions, as they lead the cross country coaches poll over Olathe East. It helps when Emily Venters has been racing in a different stratosphere this year, winning every race she's entered. Venters won her regional race by about 18 seconds. Sophomore Kiran Cordes has been running well lately (3rd at regionals) and junior Claire Sanner has always been consistent (5th at regionals).

The Firebirds are also getting a lift from junior Liv Lyche and senior Marlee Yost-Wolff, who both finished in the top-16 at regionals and both were in the top-30 at the Sunflower League meet.

The boys' team is ranked No. 3 in 6A, but has ran really well in recent weeks. Senior Ryan Liston won his regional race by 15 seconds and has been on a streak of wins for the past few races. The Firebirds are also helped by junior Ethan Donley, senior Thomas Becker and junior Tanner Hockenbury finishing in the top-10 at regionals and league.

Lawrence High didn't qualify either team for the state meet, but will be sending junior Nathan Pederson, who qualified individually. Pederson took 15th at regionals.

A quick update on a few Lawrence natives in college athletics:

--Former Free State volleyball star Katy Davis received her second MIAA Specialist of the Week Award of the season Monday. Davis, a sophomore setter for Central Oklahoma, led her school to a 2-0 record over conference opponents with 94 assists and 18 digs.

--Free State's own Jessica Ferguson, a freshman soccer player at Gardner-Webb, scored two goals and added two assists against Brevard College in a 6-1 win last week.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Football Game Tape: Week Seven

Free State and Lawrence High football teams both picked up wins in the first week of districts and are in a good spot for the upcoming two weeks.

However, that doesn't make the road forward much easier. The Firebirds will go on the road to face two teams that have been ranked in the top-five in the last two weeks, and the Lions get one of the two remaining unbeaten teams in the Sunflower League.

The positive with last week's wins is that they likely will only need one victory over the next two games to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Here's how each district looks after the first week:

District 4: Olathe North (1-0, +21 point differential), Lawrence (1-0, +3), Olathe Northwest (0-1, -3), Olathe East (0-1, -21).

District 5: Free State (1-0, +21 point differential), Topeka (1-0, +11), Manhattan (0-1, -11), Washburn Rural (0-1, -21).

Now let's get to some thoughts from last week, starting with Benton Smith's analysis of Free State's 42-14 win over Washburn Rural:

--They’re getting a littler healthier, which is huge. Sophomore linebackers Jay Dineen and Zion Bowlin being able to play will really help defensively. The Firebirds also have senior Carson Bowen back at linebacker playing near full strength.

--Junior quarterback Bryce Torneden looked to have rhythm to his throws as far as hitting wide receivers at the exact moment he need to. As long as Torneden is healthy (and they don’t suffer any more devastating injuries), they have an offense and a line that should keep them competitive with just about any team. Torneden’s dual threat ability is difficult to defend and that makes things easier for junior Khaury El-Amin and other FSHS running backs.

--Shane Hofer again showed how athletic he can be on the defensive line by picking off a pass. He would’ve housed it if there wasn’t a block in the back flag.

--The players weren’t too satisfied and they won by 28. That’s a good sign of maturity. The next couple weeks could be challenging playing at Manhattan and Topeka. Opponents and venus new for this year are difficult to prepare for, especially with playoff spots on the line.

Lawrence High beat Olathe Northwest 20-17 and here are my thoughts:

--The Lions' defense is playing with a lot of confidence and it's making a world of difference. Ever since their goal line stand against Olathe South, the Lions have allowed just two touchdowns in the past six quarters. One of those touchdowns came after a fumble and Olathe Northwest started in the red zone. Otherwise they've stopped two solid offenses dead in their tracks.

--JD Woods stayed patient when he was tackled in the backfield several times, and it paid off on his big runs. Some running backs would have become antsy trying to make something out of nothing, but Woods continued to run behind his line, and it set up four long runs (three for touchdowns). It doesn't take much to spring Woods, but it was impressive how quick he turned the game around in the second half.

LHS doesn't keep single-game records, but it's believed Woods set a new school record with 294 rushing yards. It's likely the most rushing yards in one game since Thomas Daniels went for 276 yards in the 1995 state championship game.

“When he gets to the linebackers, I know he’s gone,” junior quarterback Alan Clothier said.

--The Lions secondary was tested repeatedly but turned in their best performance. They held Olathe Northwest QB Jack Hatzfeld to just five completions in 22 attempts. Ivan Hollins and Luke Zenger proved to be strong in man-to-man coverage, and Dearion Cooper just has a nose for the ball and makes it difficult to complete throws over the middle.

--It was big for the Lions to get junior Amani Bledsoe back on the defensive line. Bledsoe attracts a ton of double-teams and even the occasional triple-team. With all of that attention, it allows linebackers Price Morgan, Konner Kelley, and Tanner Green to have an easier path to the ball and make several stops at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Free State at Manhattan on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Indians (6-1) lost their first game last week to Topeka, 52-41, after taking a 14-0 lead. They have a strong run game with Keiadrain McDonald and Chris Martin, and quarterback Eric Prockish has a strong arm. It's likely a must-win game for the Indians to make the playoffs, with Topeka High expected to beat Washburn Rural.

Lawrence High at Olathe North on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Eagles (7-0, ranked No. 2 in 6A by started the season slowly but have dominated in the past few weeks. They beat Olathe East, 49-3, and held them to less than 100 yards of total offense. O-North have one of the top rushing attacks in the league, led by Venus Triplett, who ran for 142 yards and three scores last week. The Eagles also have an extremely quick defense that's strong at stopping the run.

Free State's volleyball team responded well after a tough home loss to Bishop Miege that had players upset with the way their season was going.

The Firebirds had a 4-2 record and took fifth place at the Emporia Invitational on Saturday, with their only losses coming against Maize (ranked No. 6 in 6A by the Kansas Volleyball Association) and Topeka Seaman (ranked No. 4 in 5A).

There were tears and plenty of frustrated players after the loss to Miege (ranked No. 1 in 4A), with a lackluster third set after playing the first two sets close.

"The big difference was the first two sets, as a team, we were confident in each other and ourselves," Allie Knapp said after the loss to Miege. "Between every single play, every single mistake that we had, we really were coming together and making each other feel great about ourselves. In the third set, the confidence was gone in ourselves and each other, and that was a huge difference. We let it get the best of us, and we shouldn’t have."

The Emporia Invitational showed a good response to that, and with regionals looming on Saturday, it happened at a good time. The Firebirds will play in the Blue Valley West triangular Tuesday night and in a dual against Lawrence High on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Lions haven't been able to find a rhythm lately. After taking fourth place at the Joan Wells Invitational earlier this month, the Lions have a 2-9 record.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


Football Game Tape: Week Six

After six weeks of high school football, now's the time when the stakes get raised. This upcoming week is the start of district playoffs.

Free State won't face another Sunflower League opponent for the remainder of the season unless it's in the state championship. Instead they look towards Topeka schools in District 5, with Washburn Rural, Topeka High and Manhattan.

Lawrence High will try to compete for the Olathe city title in District 4 by facing three Olathe schools (O-Northwest, O-North and O-East) over the next three weeks.

Both Free State and LHS have tough draws this year. The Firebirds get Manhattan (6-0, ranked No. 5 in Class 6A by and Topeka (5-1), who was ranked before it was upset by Shawnee Heights last week. The Lions get Olathe North (6-0, ranked No. 2) and the other two Olathe schools have .500 records or better.

But before we look too far ahead to the districts, here are some of my thoughts from Free State's 21-6 victory over SM South.

--There's not many places to throw against Free State's secondary. Entering the season, teams were aware of how good senior cornerback Joel Spain was with all of his interceptions over the past two years. But on the other side of the field, Andrew Keating has made a name for himself. He had two interceptions last week, bringing his season total to four, and earning the "Keating Island" nickname from his teammates. Both Spain and Keating have great ball skills, and the Firebirds trust both of them in man-to-man situations.

--Junior quarterback Bryce Torneden kept the defense off balance with his runs and throws. Every opponent knows plenty about Torneden's ability to run the ball on options and read-options (their "bread and butter," Torneden calls them), as he ran for 154 yards last week. But in terrible weather, he completed two passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. On a few incompletions, he had an open receiver but just barely missed. The Firebirds haven't really thrown the ball much over the past few weeks, but the touchdown throw was a positive sign.

--The Firebirds finished a few long drives, a problem they've had in recent weeks. That was a focus for the offense and they got it done. The first two drives of the game for FSHS, both ending with touchdowns: 5 plays, 67-yards; 7 plays, 48-yards. The offense still could do better on a few more drives (one ended at midfield after a false start, another by a lost fumble), but that has to provide some confidence after long drives stalled in the past couple of weeks.

--Some of the Firebirds' injury woes are fading. The Firebirds got Carson Bowen and Khaury El-Amin back at running back Thursday, and they're hopeful to get a few more defensive starters back this week. Free State changed its defensive scheme because of all the injuries in the victory, and the Firebirds executed well for the majority of the game. It'll be interesting to watch if they stick with the new scheme when some guys come back (probably at less than 100 percent) or if they go back to the 3-5-3.

Lawrence High rallied back in the second half of its 29-21 loss to Olathe South and here are my thoughts:

--The second half showed a lot about this team. After trailing by 29 points at halftime, the defense stood tall in the second half after stopping four straight runs inside of the two-yard line on O-South's first possession of the second half, giving the offense momentum for a 99-yard scoring drive. Afterward, Olathe South's drives ended with three straight punts, an interception, and another punt in the final minute of the game. Not too many teams can turn it around like that against a top-five ranked team.

"I didn’t know what to tell them after that," LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. "I was upset with them and I love them to death because they showed a lot of character and fight. I think we’ve got a shot — a legitimate shot — to make a run in next three games."

--The Lions' secondary was solid against a good passing team. After O-South quarterback Jake Seurer started the game 4-for-6 for 39 yards, the secondary held him to 1-for-7 for one yard over the remainder of the game (after the goal line stand). LHS senior safety Dearion Cooper highlighted the secondary's play with two interceptions. There was also pass deflections from Ivan Hollins and a big pass breakup by Luke Zenger in man-on-man coverage to keep the game alive. The past few weeks, they've had some breakdowns in coverage, but this looked like their best performance in awhile.

--The Lions are going to make teams respect their passing game. A lot was made of Lawrence's win two weeks ago when the Lions didn't attempt a single pass (though winds and the score did play a factor). But junior quarterback Alan Clothier, who went 7-for-17 for 109 yards and 3 INT, kept the Falcons from loading the box on runs. He made some great throws, especially on the potential game-tying drive, and just overthrew a few more passes on the first half. He vowed after the game to make the team's passing game even better. The key on Friday was that it was effective enough to keep teams from focusing too much on Lawrence's run game.

--Speaking of the running game, it's hard to bottle up JD Woods for an entire game. Olathe South did as well as any team has this season, holding Woods to just 38 yards on 15 carries in the first half. But all it took was one adjustment, leading to a cut back lane, that set up three runs of 19 yards or more in the second half, before he totaled 179 yards by the end of the game. It's impressive how fast Woods can move in the second level.

"We made a couple of adjustments as far as going to the perimeter a little more," Wedd said. "JD is special. Wow."

Now for a look ahead to next week:

Washburn Rural at Free State on Friday at 7 p.m. — The Junior Blues (2-4) have struggled this season, but they have a strong quarterback in Blake Peterson, a Texas State commit. Not including Friday's game, Peterson has thrown for 1,135 yards (227 per game), according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. His top receiver Jake Michalski had 14 catches for 340 yards.

Olathe Northwest at Lawrence High on Friday at 7 p.m. — After a 31-0 rout over SM Northwest, the Ravens (4-2) have some momentum heading into districts. Entering last week, they owned the top rushing defense in the Sunflower League, holding teams to just 86 yards per game on the ground. They also lead the league in points allowed, only 52 points over six games -- the next closest teams have allowed 66 and 82.

If Philadelphia is the city of Brotherly Love, then Lawrence might set claim for Sisterly Love. Especially, if we're talking about girls tennis.

Lawrence High seniors Yelena and Anna Birt, twin sisters, won a regional championship in doubles over Free State junior Caitlin Dodd and freshman Ali Dodd, another set of sisters.

Along with the Birt and Dodd sisters, Free State will also send its doubles team of Rachel Walters and Taylor Hawkins to the state tournament this weekend.

But of the three doubles teams to qualify for state, it was impressive to watch the Dodd sisters win close game after close game. In the quarterfinals, their opponent called for a line judge midway through the second set because of disputed calls. That only added the drama when the Dodds led five games to four and had match point on a deuce, but lost the point and eventually went into a tiebreaker.

In the tiebreaker, no team really separated before the Dodds finally won two points in a row (winning match point on a double fault) for the 11-9 victory.

The two sisters were supporting each other between every point, "Only two more," or "Come on, right here." They had a similar close match in the semifinals, in which the opponent also called for a line judge.

One of their keys is Ali Dodd's serve, which I overheard opponents saying "Watch out for those. They're really good."

"My serve is probably one of my strongest points," Ali Dodd said. "I just like always think about where I'm going to hit it and where I'm going to put it in all of the time."

Free State's gymnastics team finished second at the Sunflower League meet, while Lawrence High took ninth.

Free State senior Grace Bartle won a league title in the floor exercise and finished as runner-up in all-around and uneven bars. FSHS seniors Haley Johnson and Carrie Howland finished eighth and ninth in the all-around, respectively. Howland's best finish was sixth in the vault and floor exercise, while Johnson took ninth in the floor and 10th in the vault. Junior Callie Hicks also added a third place finish on the uneven bars and was 12th on the beam.

Lawrence's top placer was junior Ashley Ammann, who took third in the floor exercise and 12th in the all-around. Jordyn Leon also added a 22nd place finish on the bars, and Elizabeth Harms was 29th in the floor exercise.

As always, feel free to comment, email me, or find me on Twitter @nightengalejr.


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