Lawrence, Kan. — In the cool 71 degree room above the basketball court in the west gym of Lawrence High School, the wrestling team is looking to do something that no other team there has done: win a state championship.
The Lawrence Lions have had individuals perform at a high level — two wrestlers have won two state titles a piece — but as a team, the glory hasn’t been the same. Now as the season comes to a close, they are in a position to win as a team.
The new success has been directed by head coach Patrick Naughton, who has brought a winning mentality to small school off of West 19th and Louisiana streets in Lawrence.
“Our goal each year is to win league, regionals and states,” Naughton said. “Last week we fell 22 points short of winning league. But now we move onto this week and focus on regionals.”
A winning focus has been sustained by the senior captain, Reece Wright-Conklin. Wright-Conklin is a two-time state champion (at 160 pounds and 171 pounds) and is currently ranked as the No. 1 182-pounder in Kansas 6A. He has taken it upon himself to not only win as an individual, but to win as a team.
“Usually it’s get me a state championship, or get so-and-so a state championship, but now it’s getting the whole team a state championship,” Wright-Conklin said.
On February 18, Lawrence High will try to set out and complete one of the three goals and win regionals. Lawrence will host the eight-team tournament with hopes of getting a chance at a state title.
Approaching regionals, the team must be prepared in order to accomplish that goal.
“We need to prepare and make sure they’re ready to go a full six or a full eight minutes, whatever it takes to win matches,” Naughton said.
Zac Sparr, sophomore at the University of Kansas, is a former Kansas state champion when he was in high school. He won at 119 pounds during his senior year at Rose Hill High, a school just outside Wichita, Kan. Being a former wrestler, he knows the mental aspect of what the wrestlers at Lawrence High are going through.
“They’ll probably wrestle like a 100 matches in their heads over the next couple of weeks,” Sparr said. “Just thinking out every possible scenario, but they better win every one of them. It’ll be nerve-wracking. They’ll have butterflies in their stomach for weeks. Because it is a pretty big deal, but when the time comes and the whistle blows, everything will go away, it’ll just be all instincts at that point. Everything you practiced for your whole life.”
The team is almost always bigger than the individual. After winning two state titles, Wright-Conklin is out to get his team a gold medal as well.
“I’m hoping we can pull it out,” Wright-Conklin said. “I’d like to end my season with not just a state championship myself, but as a team. We can do it we have the guys to do it.”
Update: Lawrence High takes second in team regionals (Lawrence Journal-World)