Preps notebook: Top-10 high school sports moments of 2020

photo by: Photo courtesy of Steve Heffernan

Free State's boys cross-country team poses with the state championship plaque Saturday afternoon at 4 Mile Creek Resort in Augusta on Oct. 31, 2020. It marks the first state title by the Firebirds in boy cross-country, capping off a season where they won all but one race in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Steve Heffernan)

It is no secret that 2020 was a year unlike any other because of COVID-19. That much was true in every aspect of our lives.

For the high school sports world, it resulted in athletes having their season impacted on a regular basis or even losing their season altogether in some cases. Yet there were still plenty of memorable moments by local athletes and teams over these past 12 months.

Here’s a look at all that, as we dive into the top-10 high school sports moments of 2020 regarding our area teams and local athletes:

COVID-19 impacted prep scene throughout 2020

The story of 2020 can’t be told without first getting into how COVID-19 impacted high school sports. It started in March when the entire sports world was shut down, which included the state basketball tournaments being canceled even though there were four squads still alive in every respective state tourney.

Bishop Seabury’s boys basketball team was the only area team still remaining at the time, and the program appeared poised to win its first-ever state title. The Seahawks ended the year with a 22-2 overall record and were ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. They were loaded with talented players across the board, many of whom have since left the program to better their careers.

After spring seasons were canceled, high school sports didn’t return until August. The threat of the coronavirus didn’t go away, but athletes learned to play during a pandemic. Teams took necessary precautions during practices and games throughout the fall sports season and have done so during the first month of the winter sports campaign.

There have been quarantines and plenty of games have been canceled. But people are finding a way to make it work. This has led to some notable accomplishments by area athletes and teams, including some that made the list for this 2020 recap.

Free State boys cross-country made history

For the first time in program history, Free State’s boys cross-country team won a state title. The Firebirds had two different runners lose a shoe, but still managed to win the 6A crown due to their balance as a squad. Senior Ethan Sharp led the team with a fourth-place finish at state.

The Firebirds, who won all but one race in the fall of 2020, had a special group this past season. Junior Ben Shryock was the team’s top runner much for the year, but senior Christopher Stone, junior Jack Keathley-Helms, senior Brock Cordova and Sharp all contributed to a successful season by Free State.

FSHS gymnastics secured state crown

Free State’s gymnastics team won its fifth state title in program history and first since 2014 this past season. The Firebirds won all but one of their meets this year, with their lone loss a runner-up finish at the Sunflower League meet.

Senior Talia Gay led the way for the Firebirds by winning her second all-around state title. Gay won a state crown in bars for the fourth year in a row and won another state title in beam. Lawrence High junior Paris Spotted Tail helped complete the sweep of the state crowns by claiming an individual title in floor and in vault.

Baldwin girls cross-country returned to the top

Behind a balanced attack, Baldwin’s girls cross-country squad reclaimed bragging rights by capturing a state title at the Class 4A meet. It marked Baldwin’s third state crown in four years, with the lone exception being 2019. The top five runners finished inside the top 17 for Baldwin, led by a fifth-place finish from junior Riley Smith.

Baldwin now has 12 state titles as a program since 2002.

Madyson Gray was perfect during historic season

Free State’s Madyson Gray had a sensational sophomore season last winter, which was capped off by winning an individual title at the first official state tournament in girls wrestling. Gray, who won an unofficial state title as a freshman, went 34-0 during her first high school season competing against only female wrestlers.

Gray defeated Topeka West’s Brianna Randles in the championship match of the 130-pound weight class. She is having just as strong of a start to her junior campaign after one month of the 2020-21 season.

FSHS swimmer notched state title

Another Free State athlete to win a 2020 state title was Reilley Moore, who did so in boys swimming. Moore, a junior last winter, won the 100 butterfly at the Class 6A state swim and dive championships. Moore won the race with a time of 49.62. As a team, Free State’s boys swim and dive netted fifth at the state meet.

Tonganoxie tandem took home individual titles in wrestling

For the second season in a row, the Chieftains had a pair of individual state champions in boy wrestling. Connor Searcy went 44-1 during his senior season in the 220-pound weight class to become the first back-to-back champion in program history. Grayson Sonntag secured a state crown in the 120-pound weight class, capping off a 44-3 campaign as a sophomore.

State streaks continued for local basketball programs

Four different area basketball teams have state streaks on the line this year because they made it back to the final event last season.

Lawrence High’s boys basketball squad earned its sixth consecutive trip to the state tournament, which matches a program record. Free State boy basketball also notched its fourth consecutive state berth. Both teams lost in the opening round at the Class 6A state tournament.

On the girls side, a pair of Frontier League squads have streaks of their own after falling in the first round of last year’s Class 4A state tournament. Baldwin has made three consecutive trips to state, while Eudora has back-to-back state tourney appearances.

Tyler Bowden set another school record

Another team, another single-season rushing record. Talented running back Tyler Bowden ended his impressive career by running for 2,583 rushing in 11 games during his lone season with Tonganoxie. It bested the program’s previous single-season rushing record, which was 2,124 rushing yards set by Cooper Cunningham in 2019.

Bowden, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound tailback, broke the same record during his junior season at Free State. He piled up 1,855 rushing yards a year ago, knocking off Chuck Hunter’s single-season rushing record of 1,707 yards in 2008.

PLHS football made it back to state title game

It was a really strong season by many of the local football teams, but only Perry-Lecompton made it past the quarterfinals. For the second year in a row, PLHS made it all the way to the Class 3A state championship before falling to Andale. It marked the first time in program history that the Kaws earned back-to-back trips to the state title game.

Perry-Lecompton (11-2) had to overcome plenty of adversity in 2020, which included the team losing its starting quarterback in Week 3.


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