The Kansas high school wrestling state championships will take place Friday and Saturday. Classes 5A and 6A will compete in Park City, 4A in Salina and 3A-1A in Hays. Here are five things to watch.
1. Working on a three-peat
St. James Academy’s Clay Lautt (44-1) enters the 182-pound division as the favorite. Lautt, a senior, already has two 5A state titles — one at 160, another at 170 — under his belt and did not shy away from bulking up for this season. The University of North Carolina signee’s only loss of the year was to Salem Harsh, who was undefeated in winning the state title in Nebraska’s second-largest classification.
2. A surprise Gardner Edgerton team
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After parting with a talented group at Basehor-Linwood — including upperclassmen Corbin Nirschl, Jonny Trowbridge and Alex Bejarano, who combined for a 107-10 record this season — coach Tyler Cordts inherited a team he was told was in rebuilding mode.
But the continued success of juniors Drake Taysom (16-6, 120 pounds), Jensen McDermott (31-12, 152) and Conner Greig (28-10, 160), each of whom qualified for state in 2016, catapulted the Trailblazers to third place at regionals.
They’ll be joined by eight teammates, including regional runner-up and sixth-ranked Jackson Flowers (30-15, 195), on the Class 6A mats this weekend at Park City’s Hartman Arena. McDermott and Taysom join Flowers in the individual state rankings at No. 4 and No. 6, respectively.
3. Keeping Garden City out of the record books
Best poised to dethrone four-time defending 6A champion Garden City is regional winner Olathe North and its 12 state qualifiers. Five return for another chance at an individual title. Senior Tyler Flood, the undefeated No. 1 seed at 138 pounds, came closest last year, placing second in the 126-pound class. Junior Jevon Parrish, who placed third in the 113-pound class, moved into Flood’s former division and is the No. 1 seed after going 31-1.
North also factors in the lowest class with freshman Keegan Slyter (37-1, 106 pounds), a Sunflower League and Regional champion who over the summer won a freestyle national title.
The Eagles, who placed third as a team in 2016, will need their lower-seed heavyweights to prevail if they want to come close to Garden City, which this year fields a group that is a combined 345-129 in matches.
Blue Valley Southwest (13 qualifiers) and Mill Valley (12 qualifiers) will try to climb the leader board in Class 5A.
4. Defending a crown
St. James senior Sammy Cokeley (40-4) is a two-time state placer and the returning state champion at 160 pounds. Cokeley will have to watch for Goddard’s Kendall Frame, the only other athlete in his bracket looking for a second straight title.
Stepping up a weight class is Free State’s Tate Steele (27-1), who won the 6A 132-pound division as a sophomore in 2016. He could meet Olathe North’s Tyler Flood (23-0) in the semifinals if he can get past Blue Valley North sophomore Jared Hailey (22-16) in the first round and best the freshman athlete who emerges from the top part of his bracket.
5. Seeking redemption
Wrestlers from both Shawnee Mission Northwest and Basehor-Linwood will have chips on their shoulders when they hit the mats.
Northwest junior Jerad Habben (120 pounds) returns to Hartman for the third time and teammate Devonte Smith (145) is on his fourth trip. Habben is in a division that features last year’s 113-pound champion Boo Dryden as the top seed and Olathe South’s Jace Koelzer, who won the 106-pound title in 2016.
Basehor’s Nirschl (132) and Trowbridge (152) seek their first titles since their freshman campaigns. As a senior, Nirschl is 39-1 in Class 4A this year. Trowbridge, a junior, is 36-2. They’ve both attended state throughout their high school careers.
Senior Alex Bejarano (195) will make his third trip to state this weekend and is looking for his first medal. He has been one match short of the medal stand the past two years.
And you can’t ignore Leavenworth senior Daniel Butler. He’s undefeated this year in the 170-pound class and won regionals for the second time. This weekend’s trip to state is his fourth. He’s never placed in the top three.