Winter Sports Preview: New basketball coaches ready to roll at Free State High

Free State junior Jailen Thompson drives the ball against Olathe Northwest. Free State won 58-34 on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

The 2022-23 winter season for Free State high school is set to begin this month, with games and competitions taking place now through the beginning of December.

After a successful 2021-22 campaign led by the boys basketball team’s third-place finish, the Firebirds are looking for school-wide success with several programs on the rise, including boys swimming, girls basketball, and wrestling.

Here’s a quick preview of the 2022-23 upcoming winter sports seasons at Free State High.

BOYS BASKETBALL:

Fresh off a third-place finish a season ago, the Free State boys basketball team comes into 2022-23 filled with optimism and excitement and will look to enrich its deep history despite new leadership at the helm.

In spite of losing several key players from last season, first year coach Sherron Collins and his staff enter this winter fired up and ready to take over a younger, but talented, group.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to the kids and my duty is to make sure they leave here better than they came,” Collins said. “I’m really excited to be able to touch these guys on and off the court. The excitement level is out there for sure.”

Leading the Firebirds this season is Jailen Thompson and Dre Daniels, who both played key roles in the Firebirds deep postseason run back in March, while Wesley Edison and Zeek Brown come in ready to provide crucial leadership despite not playing as many minutes on varsity prior to this season.

The Firebirds will also bring in several freshmen and sophomores, and even though they may be young in experience, their talent gives Collins great enthusiasm with their first game, scheduled for Thursday at Hays.

As FSHS navigates a tough schedule in the Sunflower League, establishing leadership presence will be key in order for the Firebirds to make a deep run in the state tournament once again.

“I think we’re in great shape about leadership,” Collins said. “We have to all do this together. I’m really excited to see them accept the role.”

With the roster nearing completion and practices officially underway, the former star point guard from KU with an NCAA national championship under is belt is ready to begin his first year back in his stomping grounds.

“It feels amazing,” Collins said. “I was blessed to have a great career here and I’m thankful for that, but I think that’s translated into the support that the community is showing us. We appreciate the Free State community because they are showing us a lot of love.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL:

The Free State girls basketball team enters its season with high hopes to improve every single day and become more competitive throughout the Sunflower League every night.

First year coach Summer Frantz is excited to lead a motivated team for the first time as a head coach, knowing that their ceiling will get higher as the season progresses.

“We’ve been waiting a while to finally get started,” Frantz said. “We’ve had a really good group over the summer and preseason. So it’s fun to finally actually get to get in the gym with our kids.”

In terms of returnees, Hadley Lonnberg and Symira Spencer are two players who played several crucial minutes last season and will aim to lead the Firebirds through bigger and tougher competition.

Additionally, Hayden Moore, Chloe Clossen, and Jordan Walker all come in with at least a year of experience that they hope pays off and leads to more victories in 2022-23.

FSHS lacks size coming into this season, but the team knows how to get up and down the floor. Speed is their biggest strength that they can use against opposing teams with more height.

“Our goal is to be in really good shape,” Frantz said. “I think so far, we’ve been really impressed as a coaching staff with our team cohesiveness and how well we get along with each other. I hope that out on the court that stands out as well.

With the start of regular season competition set for Thursday at Blue Valley West, the Firebirds are excited to see what the team can accomplish with a young group leading the way.

“I’m really excited to see their growth once we can finally get in the gym,” Frantz said. “I think if we continue to improve every day and be great teammates to each other, we think we’re on the right track.”

BOYS SWIMMING:

The Free State boys swimming team is excited and amped up for their 2022-23 season, with several swimmers and divers returning from a season ago hoping to lead the team to top finishes this winter.

FSHS coach Annette McDonald looks forward to the growth her team can show over the months ahead, with a well rounded team leading the charge as they navigate a well-rounded schedule in league and state meets.

“It feels like the first time I’m getting back without all the restrictions that we used to have,” McDonald said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids that are joining a team and I’m really excited about that. We have some really strong swimmers and divers.”

Led by Jackson Waggoner and Elliot Ahlvers who both had a solid 2021-22 campaign, the Firebirds enter the season with a loaded roster of both swimmers and divers. There are now 33 students on the roster compared to 24 a season ago.

Dawson Bonnell and Michael Leonard both look to round out a strong upperclassmen group, while several young swimmers come onto the roster this winter including Owen Carnagey and Joseph Flachsbarth.

With a schedule that features some of the top swimming talent in the state, McDonald wants her team to rise to the challenge and have fun as well, while improving every single day throughout.

“This is all about competition,” McDonald said. “They’re going to be setting their team goals and their personal goals. When we meet them, we’re just gonna set new ones and make it a fun season.”

WRESTLING:

The Free State wrestling team has its sights set on what could be a historic winter season. They have momentum from their Sunflower League Championship and two state champions from a season ago to their advantage this season, but they also have a potential target on their back.

Led by defending state champions Matthew Marcum and Nolan Bradley, the Firebirds return 10 varsity-letter winners from last season as well as 12 seniors from a successful campaign in 2021-22, as they come into this season ranked No. 4 in the KWCA preseason team rankings.

“I think everybody’s kind of at an all time high,” FSHS coach Randy Streeter said. “Our schedule is very tough, the way we like it, and we will be tested right out of the gate. We lost a lot last year but we have 10 guys returning that were starting varsity guys in some capacity. So that number is very good.”

In addition to Marcum and Bradley, Eric Streeter and Grayson Hagen each enter this winter after finishing high last year in the postseason, while D’onte Goodman also is motivated for a higher finish himself following his state qualification last season.

For the Firebirds, they look to make this year quite special for the 2023 senior class, as Randy Streeter aims to build upon relationships with his wrestlers, several of whom he has known well before high school.

Regardless, FSHS feels it has the talent and work ethic to put themselves in position to make another run at more state championships.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the big sophomore class reacts in their second year in the room,” Streeter said. “We’re gonna have 60 kids in a room so we’re gonna see how it all falls. These guys are not just great athletes, and they’re a ton of fun to be around.

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