Winter Sports Preview: LHS hoops teams ready to attack big goals during upcoming season

photo by: Chance Parker

Lawrence sophomore Zaxton King dribbles the ball against Topeka West. Lawrence fell 59-57 during the 61st Annual Topeka Invitational Tournament on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 at Highland Park High School.

A deep and talented group of upperclassmen is set to return for the Lawrence High boys basketball team this season, as LHS searches for its first Sunflower League title in nearly two years.

Last season’s 17-5 campaign was cut short in a sub-state loss to Olathe West and saw a highly-talented group learn a hard lesson on their home floor. LHS coach Mike Lewis, a three-time Sunflower League Coach of the Year, is returning for his 15th season heading the Lions’ program and is looking for a 12th consecutive winning record.

Tipping off tryouts on Nov. 14, Lewis said he felt his group was on a promising path ahead of LHS’s season opener against Blue Valley Southwest on Dec 9.

“We feel like we have a quality group that can play well together, count on each other, and put the team before themselves,” Lewis said. “They know how to compete and make each other better. We will get better each week. This group might take a little more time to get acclimated to the Varsity schedule, but we are confident that they will make big strides this season.”

LHS returns a key contributor in junior guard Zaxton King, who took home 1st Team All-League and Sunflower League Sophomore of the Year honors last season. The Lions also return plenty of depth inside with seniors Lance Bassett, Will Leuschen and Kenton Simmons.

As usual, Lewis has high expectations for what the Lions can accomplish this season.

“We’ll be at our best when we take on whoever, as a team,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been about for a long time. That’s not anything new to these guys. Everybody who’s been in the locker room with us as a player and as a staff member knows that we preach ‘We are much greater than me.’ Our guys buy into that.”

LHS girls basketball ready to raise the bar

The competitive culture that made the Lawrence High girls basketball team one of the Sunflower League’s more dangerous dark-horse teams last season will continue in Year 9 under LHS coach Jeff Dickson.

LHS’s 9-12 finish was full of bright spots for the Lions, including hard-fought victories over Olathe West and Olathe East that showed LHS is taking the next step. Turning over just one senior, the Lions return a bulk of last year’s roster, including senior guard and Johnson County Community College commit Amaya Marshall.

“Our kids have worked extremely hard this summer and the off-season,” Dickson said. “They have come a really long way since last season. We are anxious to get started and be together as a basketball family on the court. I am so excited for everyone to see all the improvements of young women have made.”

Other key returners for LHS include All-League honorable mention selections Lucy Hardy, Serenity Keo, Brynnae Johnson and Daphne Bracker Sturm. All four were regular faces on Dickson’s starting five last season and got a healthy dose of how tough the league can be.

“We play in the toughest league in the state, top to bottom, and we are ready to compete at that level,” Dickson said. “We have a tremendous group of team-first, hard-working kids.”

The LHS girls open their season against Olathe South on Dec. 9.

LHS wrestling looking to take the next step

The Lawrence High wrestling team is hoping to build off late success at state last season, returning two state-placing wrestlers to its roster. Losing just one senior, 15th-year LHS coach Patrick Naughton is ready to put some familiar faces back on the mat.

Eight Lions qualified for state last season, despite a 1-24 dual record and eighth-place finish in the Sunflower League. Senior Jack Elsten, a three-time state wrestler, and junior Andrew Honas, a two-time state wrestler, are key returners for LHS

“We will use the experience and knowledge from last year to build on this year,” Naughton said. “We are still pretty young, but are ready for the new challenges.”

LHS opened its season on Wednesday at Gardner-Edgerton.

LHS swim team ready for big encore

Sixteenth-year coach Kent McDonald has high hopes for this year’s Lawrence High swim and dive team after leading his swimmers to a 4th-place Sunflower League finish last season.

LHS returns 12 seniors to the roster, including 2nd Team All-League honoree Ryan Christian and All-League Honorable Mention(s) Maxwell Cowardin, Giuliano Lule-Paredes and Max Whittaker. All four, including returning senior Chris Oral, contributed to last season’s 12th-place performance at state.

The Lions opened their season at Free State on Wednesday.