Steele golden; FSHS wrestlers second at league

Free State's Tate Steele pins Olathe Northwest's Will Whitaker to win the 106 pound Sunflower League championship match Saturday in Leavenworth.

? Free State High freshman Tate Steele made wrestling look effortless Saturday at the Sunflower League tournament.

After winning his first-round match by a technical fall, he pinned his next three opponents to win a league championship at 106 pounds at Leavenworth High. In the finals, he won by pin over Olathe Northwest’s Will Whitaker in just 43 seconds.

Steele, who owns a 30-1 record this season, was looking forward to competing for a league title for most of the year, but he was speechless after being named the league’s Wrestler of the Year, voted upon by league coaches.

“It’s a pretty huge deal,” Steele said. “It’s kind of unexpected, though.”

Steele became the Firebirds’ first league champion since 2007, and he helped lift Free State to second place in the team standings, its highest finish in the league since placing second in 2005. Olathe North won the league title with eight individual champions.

“He was phenomenal. He earned every bit of it,” FSHS coach Mike Gillman said of Steele. “He’s one of those kids, truly, really special. Not only a good kid, but good academically and what I expect from a wrestler off of the mat.”

Free State junior Sid Miller and junior Cameron Shanks also earned trips to the league finals. Miller won in the semifinals by ultimate tiebreaker before losing in a 9-2 decision at 132 pounds. Shanks lost, 5-0, in the championship at 113.

Junior Qualian Fowler (120 pounds), freshman Isaiah Jacobs (126) and sophomore Luke Winchester (285) each finished in third place at their respective weights. Winchester clinched second place for the Firebirds, which edged Olathe Northwest by 1.5 points, with a victory by pin in the third-place match over an Olathe Northwest wrestler.

It was an opportunity for Winchester to redeem himself after losing the final match at the Blue Valley North Duals, which dropped the Firebirds from first to second at that tournament.

FSHS sophomore Nick Eddis (220), junior James Wensel (145) and sophomore Ben Hill (138) also placed within the top five of their weight classes.

“Things just fell into place,” Gillman said. “It’s been doing it all year for us. Just little things, like James Wensel winning in overtime. Sid Miller winning in overtime. Luke Winchester getting himself psyched up before, then pinning the guy to win second place for us. That’s huge.”

Lawrence High finished ninth, but had two wrestlers earn trips to the league finals — Tucker Wilson at 160 pounds and Santino Gee at 170.

Wilson couldn’t compete in the championship because of a hamstring injury, and Gee was pinned by Olathe North’s Isaac Dulgarian, last year’s Class 5A state champion at 160 pounds.

Before Saturday, Gee had wrestled once at 170 pounds. He moved up from 160 after wrestling on the junior-varsity team for most of the season.

“I kind of think of it as the same as JV, like I can do this and everything,” Gee said. “I’m keeping up.”

LHS junior Alan Clothier, the top-ranked wrestler at 182 pounds in Class 6A, didn’t compete at the league tournament because he was sick.

“It was a pretty good day for us,” LHS coach Pat Naughton said. “The freshmen came out, and they competed, and a couple of them placed. That’s the bright spot of the day and Santino just coming out of nowhere.”

Both schools will compete at regionals at 9 a.m. Saturday at Shawnee Mission West.

Sunflower League Meet

Saturday at Leavenworth

Team scores: Olathe North 308.5, Free State 177.5, Olathe Northwest 176, Shawnee Mission Northwest 145, Leavenworth 134, Olathe South 128, Olathe East 124, Shawnee Mission East 107, Lawrence 99.5, Shawnee Mission North 91, Shawnee Mission South 79, Shawnee Mission West 12.

Free State placers:

106 pounds — Tate Steele, first place.

113 — Cameron Shanks, second place.

120 — Qualian Fowler, third place.

126 — Isaiah Jacobs, third place.

132 — Sid Miller, second place.

138 — Ben Hill, fifth place.

145 — James Wensel, fifth place.

220 — Nick Eddis, fourth place.

285 — Luke Winchester, third place.

Lawrence High placers:

113 pounds — Bennett King, fourth place.

126 — Ja’Melle Dye, fifth place.

132 — Cade Burghart, fifth place.

145 — James Cooper, sixth place.

160 — Tucker Wilson, second place.

170 — Santino Gee, second place.