Preps notebook: Firebirds hoping to get back on track after 0-2 start

photo by: Mike Yoder

Free State quarterback Jet Dineen (12) hands the ball off during a game against Olathe North on Friday Sept. 18, 2020 at FSHS. The Firebirds suffered a 35-9 loss to fall to 0-2 on the year.

There is no reason for Free State’s football program to push the panic button after an 0-2 start to the 2020 campaign even though the team hasn’t lost two games in a season since 2016.

In fact, the Firebirds have been here before.

FSHS dropped its first three games to begin the 2015 season before eventually making it to the Class 6A semifinals. Bryce Torneden, who was one of the standouts on that squad before eventually going to play at KU, actually spoke to the football team about that season at some point last week.

“It happens sometimes,” FSHS head coach Kevin Stewart said. “Sometimes it’s not really in your control. This situation has been a lot of things we can’t control, so we have to try to keep getting better in practice every single day and control the things we can control.”

It was a message that resonated with the players, especially when Free State eventually suffered a 35-9 defeat to Olathe North at home on Friday. Stewart emphasized after the game that the Firebirds can still get things back on track this fall.

Despite what figures to be a tough 2020 schedule, which includes a Sept. 24 road meeting with Lee’s Summit North (2-2), Free State has plenty of potential to make the most of this season. More importantly, though, the players still believe just that.

“It’s great to use (the 2015 team) as an example of what we can do,” senior linebacker Jacobee Williams said. “This team can really be as good as we want it to be.”

The biggest reason for optimism entering this week for Free State is how strong the defense looked at times against Olathe North.

There were certainly a few big plays that ended up making the score a little more lopsided in the end, but the Firebirds held their own for the most part against a team that is currently ranked No. 3 in Class 6A.

After two games, Tai Newhouse leads the team with 16 total tackles. He has a team-high 12 solo stops to illustrate his dominance on the defensive line. Jordan Wells and Williams are both tied in second with 10.5 tackles. Grant Gregory, Ben Stallard, Ryley Wheat and Mason Georgie are all making contributions to the defense as well.

Still, the unit needs to work on being more consistent in order to not give up the big plays. That issue could be solved by the Firebirds adding more depth this week, with the players in quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test in Week 1 now back with the team.

“We have some pieces there that are pretty talented,” Stewart said. “We are still a little bit inconsistent. We do good for three or four possessions and then the next possession they just drive down the field and it looks easy.”

Perhaps the biggest bright spot on the defensive side of the ball has been Williams’ play.

The senior switched positions this past offseason after playing cornerback last year. The position switch allows him to make more plays in the run game, which was on display when he delivered a big hit on an Olathe North ball carrier last week.

Williams experienced some growing pains at first, especially with an offseason impacted by the pandemic, but he has appeared more comfortable at linebacker through the first two games.

“It’s been pretty nice; coaches made it pretty easy on me,” Williams said. “It’s gone a little better than I anticipated it would.”

Williams even got some snaps on the offensive side of the ball, which included a carry. Stewart admitted that Williams might be the best athlete on the team, in terms of speed and strength, so the Firebirds might try to utilize him more on offense moving forward.

It could make for some busy nights for Williams, but the senior doesn’t seem to mind.

“I look forward to it a lot,” Williams said. “It’s just exciting to have the ball in your hands. If I can help out anyway I can, I would be very happy with that.”

Free State will try to get its first win of the season in its first road test of the year. Kickoff at Lee’s Summit North is slated for 7 p.m.

“I think we have a good chance to get a win this week,” Stewart said. “They are a very good team, but they are a beatable team. So we have to try to get a win.”

Lawrence girls tennis wins dual

Lawrence High’s girls tennis team was victorious in its home dual with Bonner Springs on Wednesday at LHS.

The Lions won six varsity matches en route to a 6-3 victory. LHS won five of the six matches in singles play. Lilli Derby and Katie Logan, the team’s usual top players in singles, took care of business in their respective matches.

Bella Kirkwood, who normally has success in doubles, also earned a win in No. 3 singles. Ryleigh Leon and Abby Marsh both notched victories in No. 4 and No. 5 singles, respectively.

Derby and Logan teamed up to record Lawrence’s only victory in doubles, posting an 8-0 win as the No. 2 doubles tandem.

Lawrence 6, Bonner Springs 3

1S: Lilli Derby, 7-2 win

2S: Katie Logan, 6-1 win

3S: Bella Kirkwood, 6-1 win

4S: Ryleigh Leon, 6-3 win

5S: Abby Marsh, 6-3 win

6S: Amanda Earnhart, 6-4 loss

1D: Leon/Kirkwood, 8-3 loss

2D: Derby/Logan, 8-0 win

3D: Iris Sherron/Stineman, 8-4 loss

FSHS wrestler ranked nationally

Madyson Gray will likely have more of a target on her back entering her junior campaign with Free State’s girls wrestling team.

Gray, who won a state title a year ago, made the list for the preseason national rankings for high school girls wrestlers ahead of the 2020-21 season. Gray comes in at No. 9 in the 132-pound weight class on a list put together by USA Wrestling, FloWrestling and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.

Gray was one eight wrestlers from Kansas to make the list.

Last year was a historic season for Gray, who won an individual title at the first official state tournament in girls wrestling. She went 34-0 during her sophomore season in the 130-pound weight class.


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