Winter Sports Preview: High bar set for Wood in Year 1 with LHS hoops

Lawrence High junior Zaxton King drives to the basket against Manhattan High on Friday, March 3, 2023.

The calendar is about to turn to December, meaning that it’s time for winter sports season. The Journal-World has everything you need to know about Lawrence High.

Here’s the outlook for the Chesty Lions this season:

Questions aplenty for Wood and LHS boys hoops in Year 1

An unexpected change of power led Lawrence High head boys basketball coach Nick Wood back to his alma mater this offseason after former longtime coach Mike Lewis resigned.

Wood, a longtime coach and administrator in the area, has his work cut out for him following up the four Sunflower League titles and seven consecutive substate championships won during the Lewis era.

“It’s a huge responsibility and it means the world to be able to have it,” Wood said during a summer practice. “Now, to be in charge of (LHS boys basketball), it’s such a huge honor to be able to do that and it’s not anything I take lightly, at all. I’m super hungry and motivated to go attack this.”

Easily headlining the Lions’ roster is senior guard Zaxton King (24.4 ppg), who returns to the roster after collecting Journal-World All-Area Player of the Year honors last winter as the leading LHS scorer on the floor.

That’ll be the only break Wood gets when constructing his starting five, though.

Senior Gordon Fineday Jr., junior Banks Bowen, junior Aden Ramirez and junior Jaylen Parks will all be making their cases for minutes on the wing. Inside, Wood will be looking to senior Kem Allen and sophomore Josh Galbreath to become the Lions’ authority on the block.

photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World

Lawrence High head boys basketball coach Nick Wood shares a chat with sophomore Josh Galbreath near the bench Lawrence High senior Zaxton King drives the ball during a scrimmage against Eudora High on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, at Eudora High School.

LHS, which finished the 2022-23 season with a 17-5 record and 56-40 loss to Manhattan at home in the 6A substate title game, is in good hands with Wood and assistant coach Anthony Harvey Jr., who each bring deep experience.

“I’m really excited about the potential of this group,” Wood said. “We are fortunate to have an experienced senior like Zaxton King, but I also feel other players on our roster are ready to step up and be big-time contributors.”

Wood, in addition to several basketball coaching gigs in town, coached high school basketball overseas in Oman; Harvey returns to LHS after his playing career at Newman wrapped in 2020.

LHS opens its season at Blue Valley Southwest on Friday. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.

Can Dickson and the LHS girls hoops get another stab at state?

Last winter, a deep roster led the Lawrence High girls basketball team to a Sunflower League runner-up spot and its first 6A state tourney appearance since 2017. The Lady Lions and 10th-year head coach Jeff Dickson will try to recreate that magic this season.

LHS, finishing their 2022-23 campaign 18-5 with a first-round loss in Wichita, returns the right players for the job. Senior guards Destiny Savannah, Cyrenity Hardy, Delilah Barnes and Miri Pickman, Azura Clark and returning leading scorer Brynnae Johnson can all be found.

How those new leaders will fit together remains to be seen, but a firmly locked starting lineup is far from what has Dickson excited about this year’s group.

“We have kids that are clearly invested in what they’re doing,” Dickson said during a summer practice.

photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World

Cyrenity Hardy keeps her eyes on the ballhandler against Blue Valley Northwest during the Shot Clock Showdown on Saturday, June 23, 2023, at Mill Valley High School.

The Lions’ returning names will be tasked with replacing the efforts of four key members of last year’s starting five – Amaya Marshall, Lucy Hardy, Serenity Keo and Daphne Bracker-Sturm – who all took advantage of offers to continue their playing careers at the college level this fall.

The current LHS team got thrown into the fire a bit this summer, traveling across the country to put their returning depth to the test. Some of his latest graduation class’ leadership qualities began flashing over the summer, Dickson said.

“This group has been exceptional and, oftentimes, when we lose a really big senior class, you have this super big void and people don’t fill it right away – this was not the case with this group on the leadership end,” Dickson said. “They stepped right in and knew it was their time. That aspect is definitely going to be a strength.”

LHS opens its season at Washington on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

LHS wrestling ready to reload this season

After taking another step forward a year ago, the Lawrence High wrestling team is hungry for more this season under returning 17th-year head coach Pat Naughton.

Last season, LHS graduates Tucker Corbin, Jack Elsten and Trevon Swearinger paved the way for a seventh-place finish in the Sunflower League and a 13th-place finish at the 6A state tournament finish in Park City.

photo by: Scott Chasen

Lawrence wrestling coach Pat Naughton looks on during a dual in Eudora. LHS won the dual, 52-27. Two seats to Naughton’s right is Randy Streeter.

Feeding off their elders’ success this season will be seniors Andrew Honas, Harrison Kirkwood and sophomore Lou Elsten. Honas, a three-time state wrestler, and Elsten, who finished fourth at state to wrap up an impressive freshman campaign at 106 pounds, will have their eyes on getting back to state.

Naughton is eager to watch guys like Honas and Elsten influence each other and help fill the room with their experience.

“We have a lot of experience for our young guys to lean on and learn,” Naughton said. “We’re excited to get this season started.”

LHS opened its season at Gardner Edgerton on Wednesday and will compete in a tournament at Leavenworth Saturday.

Hopes high for Weber’s first boys season leading LHS swim

The Lawrence High boys swim and dive team will be under new, but familiar, leadership this season with first-year coach Elle Weber.

Last season, then-assistant coach Weber began her transfer of power when LHS coach Kent McDonald and his wife, Annette, called it quits after 30 years of serving LHS and Free State’s swim programs. Now, Weber gets her first crack at the boys as head coach.

Returning seniors Jack Tell and Luke Velte are at the front of Weber’s roster, with sophomores Alex Oral and Hugo Cowardin expected to step up from their impressive freshman campaigns. Above all, Weber is most optimistic about her team’s chances across relays this season.

LHS opened its season in a quad with Free State, Leavenworth, and Shawnee Mission South at the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center at FSHS on Wednesday and will return to action on Dec. 9.


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