Preview: First-year Free State, LHS coaches ready to embrace City Showdown hoops classic

Free State students are jubilant against Lawrence High on Friday, February 17, 2023.

Neither Free State nor Lawrence High enters Friday’s boys basketball City Showdown with serious postseason implications on the line, but that could hardly detract from the contest’s importance to its two first-year head coaches.

Dwayne Paul, who jumped to FSHS (6-11) from Hayden Catholic in Topeka over the summer, and Nick Wood, who filled the void left by longtime coach Mike Lewis at LHS (5-12), will have a little extra responsibility on their shoulders when their teams take the floor on Friday night at FSHS.

The Firebirds, who snapped a five-game losing streak by defeating an 11-win Shawnee Mission East team 49-46 on the road on Tuesday, aren’t letting their late-season woes set their story in stone quite yet, Paul said.

“It’s bragging rights for the entire year,” Paul said. “This is the most important part of the season. It’ll be important for not getting too hyped up with the crowd. It’s the City Showdown.”

photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World

Free State senior Dash Johnson (15) puts the ball in transition during a game against Olathe North on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, at Free State High School.

Key FSHS seniors Dash Johnson and Wesley Edison are preparing for their final meeting with the Chesty Lions on the hardwood. They combined for 17 points against the Lancers and will have their hands full on Friday with LHS senior leading scorer Zaxton King (28.0 ppg).

Also part of the Lions’ scouting report is junior Korbin Dowdell, who’s blossomed throughout his junior season and led the Firebirds with 12 points on Tuesday. FSHS can move the ball quickly and confidently, Wood said.

“We have to have an awareness of where they are at all times,” Wood said. “There’s multiple guys there that are ready to get out there and make plays.

photo by: Chance Parker/Special to the Journal-World

Lawrence High junior Avery Johnson dribbles the ball against Highland Park. The Lions fell to the Scots during the Topeka Invitational at Hayden High School on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.

Wood and LHS entered February 2-11 and have since won three of their last four games, including a 62-60 upset at Shawnee Mission South. The Lions’ winning stretch came alongside double-figure scoring by senior Gordon Fineday, junior Avery Johnson and sophomore Edward Roman Nose.

The Lions, who played their first 10 regular-season games on the road, will be ready for the raucous environment across town at FSHS.

“We’ve believed in these guys from day one,” Wood said. “I have the utmost confidence they’ll be ready to step up.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at FSHS.

Free State, LHS girls putting their best to the test

Lawrence High’s hopes for a home substate berth must pass through Free State when the school’s girls basketball teams collide in the City Showdown on Friday.

LHS (9-8) enters the matchup hoping to give its resume a bump with another win over the Firebirds (1-17), but FSHS coach Summer Frantz said her group is ready to throw everything they’ve got at the Lions in search of her team’s first win since Jan. 18 vs. Sumner Academy.

The Firebirds, fresh off a lopsided 52-26 road defeat at Shawnee Mission East, will be leaning on freshman newcomer and rising Sunflower League star Anniston Clark (12.8 ppg and 6.6 rpg) and a supporting cast of experienced starters Addie Fulscher and Chloe Clossen to get the job done.

“It’ll be the first City Showdown for a number of our players,” Frantz said. “I think we’re going to practice tomorrow with crowd noise so we can get used to the environment. We’re just trying to get ready for the environment.”

Earlier this season, Dickson said he was “impressed” by the job Frantz and her staff are doing in Year 2. Dickson, too, has watched his team fight through the fire this season without junior leader Brynnae Johnson in the lineup.

LHS seniors Emma Roman Nose, Destiny Savannah, Cyrenity Hardy and Delilah Barnes have all stepped up since losing Johnson to injury early in the season, most notably with a 41-38 bounce-back road victory at Olathe Northwest (8-9).

The addition of breakout freshman Cami Nauholz (10.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg), who scored 11 points in a tight 45-42 home loss to Olathe North on Tuesday, has also helped LHS mitigate the loss of Johnson. Nauholz will go toe-to-toe with Clark in the paint Friday night for the first time on the high school stage.

Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.

*Reporter Gus Baylow contributed to this story.


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