Winter Sports Preview: Paul pumped for deep Free State hoops roster
photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World
With the Thanksgiving holiday in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for winter sports season and the Journal-World has you covered on all things Lawrence Free State.
Here’s the outlook for the Firebirds this season:
New-look FSHS boys hoops to include familiar faces
Some might’ve been surprised when University of Kansas great Sherron Collins called it a day with the Free State boys basketball team after just one season, but the offseason brought renewed confidence in the form of Dwayne Paul, who leaped to the head coaching gig from Topeka’s Hayden Catholic.
A proven winner in 4A ball, Paul will now turn to some of the state’s heaviest hoops talent in the Sunflower League with a Firebirds team that’s ready to rock after a disappointing finish (11-10) at regionals a year ago.
Three FSHS senior staters – guards Devon Hamilton, Dash Johnson and forward Wesley Edison – are all slated to return. Also in the mix are junior point guard Korbin Dowdell and junior big man Boston Baker, two names carrying over valuable varsity experience.
Since the summer, Paul has been more than pleased with his team’s output.
“We’ve taken tremendous strides,” Paul said. “I’ve got a feel for who can do what and, now that tryouts are over, we can really focus on the buildup.”
photo by: TopSports.news
Paul sought out former Lawrence High and Colorado State guard Anthony Bonner – a player Paul recruited while coaching at Emporia State – to become his assistant coach. Bonner spent the previous few seasons at LHS working alongside former Chesty Lions coach Mike Lewis.
Spending the last few months tailoring their program for the Firebirds, Paul and Bonner have high hopes for their first year on the job.
“Working with (Bonner)’s been great,” Paul said. “(Bonner)’s got a great feel for the guys and that’s been very rewarding and refreshing for a lot of different reasons… You always want a guy who understands your expectations.”
FSHS opens its season at the Shawnee Mission East invitational tournament on Dec. 5-8.
Frantz raising the bar for FSHS girls hoops this season
Free State head girls basketball coach Summer Frantz will be the first to tell you last year’s 0-21 finish isn’t representative of what her team puts on the floor day after day. In Year 2, Frantz is more than encouraged about the opportunity in front of her girls this season.
The Lady Firebirds laid the groundwork for success last season behind sophomore All-Area First Team point guard Addie Fulscher, the main source of production for a still-growing offense that began finding a rhythm toward the bottom half of its league schedule.
“I’m proud of how the girls responded to last season,” Frantz said. “We were all on the same page about the work we needed to put in to take the next step as a program.”
photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World
This year’s supporting cast features junior guard Chloe Clossen, senior guard Cydnee Price, senior forward Aly Richardson and junior forward Hadley Lonnberg. Offseason newcomers Peyton Moore, Anniston Clark, Tessa Nover-Estes and Aedri Grooms are expected to carve out roles for themselves, Frantz said.
FSHS opens its season at Blue Valley West on Thursday.
Firebird wrestlers have big shoes to fill after stellar 2022-23 finish
Replacing three 6A state champions is no easy feat, but Free State head wrestling coach Randy Streeter feels up for the challenge. Welcoming back the youngest team of his tenure, Streeter and the Firebirds will be looking to shatter any doubts about their depth this season.
D’onte Goodman, a three-year starter and two-time state wrestler, will be the lone senior returning this season. FSHS will lean on leadership from juniors Drew Streeter, returning this season from his first state-qualifying season with 60+ career wins, and Grayson Hagen, holder of two state medals and currently on track to become the youngest Firebird to reach 100 wins, to help pick up the slack this season.
photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World
Streeter said any concerns about this year’s younger group will be put to rest soon enough.
“(Free State) is literally the biggest sleeper in 6A,” Streeter said. “No one is picking us to win because we lost the big three last season (state champs Bradley, Streeter, and Marcum). Everyone is underestimating my junior class and it’s packed with talent.”
FSHS opens its season in a tournament at Leavenworth on Saturday.
FSHS boys swim team reaching high in Year 1 under Skinner
The Free State boys swim and dive team, following a similar path as LHS, will have a new face leading practices this winter in Janna Skinner, but make no mistake, the rigorous standards both McDonald coaches — LHS’ Kent and FSHS’ Annette — held their swimmers to still apply.
After a ninth-place finish at state last season, the Firebirds return team captains Dawson Bonnell, Jake King, Levi Bates and fourth-place state diver (2022) Isaiah Wilkins to the senior leadership circle. Skinner is also expecting big things from juniors Ari Mattes (sprinter) and Sina Khosh (backstroke) down the stretch.
Skinner said her seniors, motivated and focused, have already demonstrated the leadership needed for another lengthy run this season.
FSHS opens its season in a quad with LHS, Leavenworth, and Shawnee Mission South at the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center on Wednesday. The first race is slated for 3:30 p.m.