Firebirds ready for start of winter sports season

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State junior guard Kris Daniels (0) looks for a teammate to pass to. Free State defeated Topeka High 58-48 on Saturday, March 7.

Four Free State winter sports programs will begin competition this week after recently finding out that the high school sports season will go on as scheduled.

Free State’s swim and dive program and the wrestling team will get started on Wednesday. FSHS boys basketball will have its season opener at home on Friday, while the girls basketball team will be in action in a road matchup on Saturday.

Here is a look at all four winter sports teams entering the 2020-21 seasons:

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State junior center Andrew Piper (20) looks for a teammate to pass to. Free State defeated Topeka High 58-48 on Saturday, March 7.

Boys basketball

The Firebirds will have to replace key players from last year’s team, including standout DK Middleton, but expectations remain the same. Free State plans to find a way to get back to the Class 6A state tournament in Wichita.

This figures to be the smallest team that head coach Sam Stroh has had in his six years Free State. It is a guard-heavy lineup that will rely on its athleticism and playing out in space to replicate the success that this time had a season ago.

Last season FSHS went 18-5 (10-2 Sunflower League), en route to clinching a share of the league title and notching another state berth.

“We are excited to take the court again,” Stroh said. “We know this season will be different, but the goals of winning the league and getting back to state won’t change.”

Junior guard Mozae Downing is back after averaging 7 points and five assists per game during his sophomore campaign.

Andrew Piper, who is a 6-foot-4 senior, will provide the necessary post presence and leadership for Free State this year. He averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds per contest last season. Senior guard Kris Daniels is also back after producing 4 points per game last year.

Free State will play host to Raytown South at 7 p.m. Friday in the season opener. FSHS will then travel to Liberty at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the second game of the 2020 campaign.

“Our guys have been working hard the last couple of weeks,” Stroh said. “They know we have a tough schedule right out of the gate. They have adjusted well to all of the protocols and we have stressed to be ready and adjust as the season progresses.”

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State junior Shannon Clarke (3) shoots a contested jump shot over SM North players Madison Koller (52) and Kiara Williams (3) during a game Tuesday night at FSHS on Feb. 18, 2020.

Girls basketball

Free State will have a third head coach in as many years to guide this program through a season unlike any other.

Chris Linner was named the new head coach of FSHS girls basketball in late July, so he hasn’t had much of an adjustment period before things got started. He replaces Nick Wood, who left after one year to become the Lawrence High Athletic Director.

The Firebirds bring back a few key pieces from a team that went 8-13 under Wood a year ago. Senior Shannon Clarke, who is committed to play Division I basketball at the Naval Academy, will lead the way in what figures to be a sensational senior season.

The 6-foot wing averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a junior last year. Clarke also set the school record for most field goals in a game with 14. Clarke ended up connecting on 30 attempts from beyond the arc last season.

Seniors Evy Harrell and Daeci Walker will also have major roles on this year’s squad. Harrell has provided strong defensive play throughout her career.

“Excited to have this opportunity to play and look forward to being able to give the seven seniors on this squad an opportunity to have one last season,” Linner said.

Free State will travel to Blue Valley Northwest at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

photo by: Courtesy photo

Free State senior Caleb Streeter poses for a photo before the start of his final wrestling campaign at the high school level. Photo courtesy of Free State wrestling.


Free State’s wrestling squad will also be directed by a first-year head coach. Fortunately for Randy Streeter, he has a strong group of returners to lean on during his first season at the helm.

Madyson Gray is back after making history by winning a state title in the first official state girls wrestling tournament. She enters the year ranked No. 1 in the state in the 132-pound weight class and is also ranked No. 9 in the nation.

photo by: Nick Krug

Free State’s Madyson Gray pins Lawrence High’s Abby Afful in the 130 pound match on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 at Lawrence High School.

Free State has five wrestlers ranked in the Kansas preseason rankings entering the year. Nolan Bradley (No. 2 in 106-pound weight class), Eric Streeter (No. 4 in 113), Caleb Streeter (No. 2 in 138), Laython Biddle No. 6 in 160) and Matthew Marcum (No. 6 in 170) are all ranked and should have high expectations as individuals.

Bradley finished fifth at the state meet last year to cap off an impressive freshman campaign. Caleb Streeter, who is committed to wrestle at Newman University, will look to qualify for the state meet for the fourth year in a row.

The wrestling season will be an all-dual schedule due to COVID-19, but that might be a good thing given the balance and flexibility of the Firebirds’ lineup.

“Duals play into our hand as a strength, as we are young and can move kids around from weight class to weight class,” Streeter said. “With a solid core of returners, our young lineup will prove to be sleepers not just in the Sunflower League, but on the state level. There is a huge ceiling for this team as a whole.”

photo by: Courtesy photo

Senior Riley Sirimongkhon-Dyck poses for a photo during a Free State swim practice before the start of the 2020-21 season. Sirimongkhon-Dyck, who a three-time state competitor, is a captain on the team this year. Photo courtesy of FSHS swim.


Behind another strong senior class, Free State’s swim and dive team could be in the mix at both postseason meets this year. That was certainly the case last season, when the squad finished fourth at the Sunflower League meet and fifth at the state meet.

“We will make safety a priority during this season,” said Annette McDonald, who is entering her 20th season in charge of the program. “Seniors are showing great leadership with a team work ethic and sportsmanship.”

Riley Sirimongkhon-Dyck is leading the way on that front as the senior captain. He is a three-year state competitor and has a serious shot at breaking the school record in breaststroke this season. Finnegan VanDyke (three-time state qualifier) and Owen Polson are both shouldering more responsibility as seniors this year.

Juniors Alexander Moore, Max Bates and Jacob Heinz are all key returners for the Firebirds as well. Sophomores Elliott Ahlvers and Michael Leonard are also back after qualifying for the state meet as divers last year.

Free State will begin the season by hosting a meet at LHS on Wednesday. The diving portion of the meet will begin at 1:30 p.m., while swimming events are slated to start at 3:30 p.m.


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