Preps Notebook: Young captain lifting Lawrence and Free State girls wrestling program through ups and downs

photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World

Lawrence High sophomore Goldy Stephens (left) and LHS head girls wrestling coach Carl Springer (right) before a team practice on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, at Lawrence High School. With Stephens' help, Springer has more than doubled his team's roster size.

It’s been far from a perfect season for the combined Lawrence High-Free State girls wrestling team, with injuries and poor weather tripping up the program’s hot start this winter.

Even as cold temperatures lifted, injuries prevented Wednesday’s varsity meet at LHS from taking place – another late-season blow with the Sunflower League championships on Saturday and regionals sitting just over a week away on Feb. 10.

LHS-FSHS coach Carl Springer nearly doubled his roster size from 14 to 30 with the help of team captain and state qualifier Goldy Stephens (25-8, 190 pounds). Stephens, a sophomore, is already nearing the 100-win mark – a feat no other wrestler in the program can claim.

Springer, recalling a conversation with longtime Washburn Rural wrestling coach Damon Parker, said the former coach told him the secret was finding just one girl to set the example.

“It was pretty easy for me to find one girl,” Springer said. “She was the captain last year as a freshman, won Outstanding Wrestler of the Year and blew away all the records – she owned every record but one for Lawrence High (100 wins).”

Don’t get it twisted – Stephens is hardly the only Lion searching for a big finish to a not-so-ideal season.

Freshman newcomer Elizabeth Mock (140 pounds) shattered the school’s fastest pin record twice during the regular season, pinning two opponents in 17 and 19 seconds. In similar fashion, FSHS junior Zoe Milburn (130 pounds) also shattered her school’s record with a 12-second pin at the Shawnee Mission Northwest Holiday Tournament.

Stephens opened her sophomore campaign with two first-place finishes alongside FSHS junior Daijah Preston. Preston was injured midway through the season, however; she will miss the remainder of the season and finished with a 21-7 record.

photo by: Contributed photo

Free State junior Daijah Preston (left) and Lawrence High sophomore Goldy Stephens (right) after winning their respecitive first-place matches at Olathe Northwest on Dec. 9, 2023.

With her star teammate off the mat, Stephens is taking on extra responsibility heading into the postseason, something she said she feels prepared to do.

“My journey on leadership started before I got in the wrestling room,” Stephens said.

Before arriving at LHS, Stephens grew up playing soccer and eventually played middle linebacker at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School before signing up for the wrestling team the same year in eighth grade.

It was Springer’s first team practice a year ago where things just clicked for Stephens. Just a year later, Springer’s six-year-old daughter is bringing her youth league wrestling medals to practice for the team captain’s approval.

“I was probably the oddball on every single team I ever joined – I’m not the oddball on this team,” Stephens said. “Our team is a bunch of random people who want to have fun, and that’s how the environment feels in the room.”

Following a disappointing showing at Basehor-Linwood last week, LHS and FSHS will get another chance to jump back into the fire at this weekend’s league tournament. No matter the outcome, Springer has a good feeling about his team’s trajectory with leaders like Stephens in the mix.

“It’s easy to build a good program when you have good kids,” Springer said.”We’re building, and sometimes as a head coach I’ve got to be reminded of that.”

The meet’s start time and bracket are not yet finalized.

City swimmers to watch this postseason

Members of the Free State and Lawrence High boys swim and dive teams are getting set for a busy postseason beginning with the Sunflower League championships on Thursday.

Both teams have high expectations for this year’s league meet, fresh off a pair of strong showings at the Topeka High Invitational. Better yet, a handful of qualifiers are in prime position to make waves at the state tournament.

Here are six local swimmers to keep on your radar in February:

• Dawson Bonnell, Free State

Bonnell, a senior captain, is a central part of the Firebirds’ 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relay teams this season. Bonnell helped FSHS win both relays in Topeka last week and will be making a play for gold medals in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly at league.

photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World

Free State senior Dawson Bonnell takes a breath after finishing his heat in the 200-yard individual medley at the Topeka High Invitational on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka, Kansas.

• Jake King, Free State

King, a two-time state qualifier, hopes to anchor FSHS in all three relays – 200-yard medley, 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard freestyle – at league and state. This season, the junior has carved out a top-five spot on the Firebirds’ varsity roster in the 50-yard individual freestyle.

• Luke Velte, Lawrence High

Velte is a key part of all three relays – 200-yard medley, 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard freestyle – at league and state. Individually, the senior also has sky-high expectations in the 50-yard freestyle, which he won last week in Topeka.

• Ryan Lane, Lawrence High

Lane will be competing in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races this postseason alongside his duties in all three relays. The junior broke out with a second-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly last week in Topeka.

photo by: Contributed photo

Ryan Lane, Lawrence High

• Sina Khosh, Free State

Khosh, who has climbed to the No. 2 spot on FSHS’ roster and the 26th spot in the state, will try to build on his times in the 500-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke this postseason. The junior added individual gold medals in both events last week in Topeka, as well as helping FSHS reach a first-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay.

• Isaiah Wilkins, Free State

Wilkins, who claimed the fourth-place spot in the 1-meter dive at last year’s state championship, is a clear favorite in his event heading into the Sunflower League championships. The senior added another first-place individual finish (431.35) in the 1-meter dive last week in Topeka.

photo by: Contributed photo

Isaiah Wilkins

Hoffman leads Seabury boys past Maranatha Christian

A career-high 36 points by Bishop Seabury sophomore Jace Hoffman were the highlight of an 80-54 win over Maranatha Christian on Tuesday night at home. Hoffman finished the night with a game-high nine 3-pointers.

The Seahawks (9-4), supported by juniors Jace Smith (13 points) and Chase Honarvar (10 points), took another step forward after suffering an 11-point loss to Olathe-Heritage Christian following the Baldwin Invitational.

Seabury hosts Bishop Ward on Friday. Tipoff is at 6:30 p.m.

Free State wrestler picks up late-season title

On the heels of Free State wrestling’s dual victory over Lawrence High, freshman Xander Swoyer went 6-0 to claim the 285-pound title at the annual Trojan Invitational over the weekend at Andover High School.

Ten FSHS wrestlers earned medals in the top six of their weight clases, including second-place finishes by junior Otto Reese (138 pounds), senior D’onte Goodman (144 pounds) and junior Blaine Larkin (215 pounds).

photo by: Contributed photo

Free State freshman Zander Swoyer (285 pounds) pins his opponent during a tournament on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, at Andover High School.

Rounding out the Firebirds’ third-place team finish behind Bishop Carroll and runner-up Andover High were junior Michael Hernandez (4th, 106 pounds), junior Brayden Wilcox (5th, 126 pounds), freshman Coghlan Odom (3rd, 120 pounds), junior Gabe Swoyer (3rd, 157 pounds), junior Cole Wright (4th, 165 pounds) and sophomore Zane Shaw (4th, 175 pounds).

FSHS and LHS return for the Sunflower League championships on Saturday.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.