With the wrestling postseason on the horizon, the ninth-ranked 5A Lansing Lions wrestling team is poised for improvement from their 12th place finish at the state tournament last season.
The Lions wrapped up their season with 58-18 win at Leavenworth Feb. 6 and had competed at the Shawnee Mission North Invitational the week before where they earned a fourth-place team finish.
Head coach Nick Flynn said he has seen his team grow this season and put themselves in a strong position to accomplish their goals.
"We have had a ton of growth this season," he said. "As a coach, this is what I look for most, and not just in wrestling, but in character too. At the end of the day, the most important thing is how we conduct ourselves on and off the mat that will help us be successful in wrestling and life."
Flynn said he has been impressed with the improvement of Jack Knutson and Tristen Givens since the team came back from the holiday break.
"At the Shawnee Mission North tournament, it was clear that they have both jumped to the next level," he said.
While being ranked ninth in the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association’s Class 5A rankings, the Lions also have three individuals ranked in the top five of their weight class. Camden Maestas is the top-ranked grappler in the 126-pound class, a spot the junior has held for the majority of the season. Senior Hartwell Taylor is third in the 132-pound class and junior Jacob McClain is third in the 152-pound class.
Flynn said Maestas and Taylor are two of the most impressive wrestlers the program has.
"Both of them have it all," he said. "High-level wrestlers, great attitudes, good in the classroom, great leaders, just all around fantastic kids to have on your team. They both continue to impress me daily in the room and every time they step out on the mat. I consider myself lucky to be able to coach these two and am really excited to see how their season ends up."
Flynn also talked about McClain’s importance to the team, saying he often gets overlooked but has shown a lot of growth over his career.
"Most people watch him (McClain) wrestle now and think he has always been a successful wrestler," he said. " Really, Jacob struggled his freshman year. He made huge strides last year toward the latter half of the season and had a fantastic state tournament. This year he has been working his tail off to continue to improve. He has really turned into a dominant wrestler. The scariest thing about Jacob is that he is nowhere near his ceiling."
The Lions struggled with the usual setbacks of sickness and injuries but Flynn said the team has handled adversity well.
"Really, no different than what every other team goes through," he said. "Sickness and injuries are just part of the process. I have been impressed with how my team has responded to this and continues to get better even when they are down. We are working hard on getting healthy for the postseason."
With the postseason starting up this weekend with the United Kansas Conference Tournament at De Soto High School, Flynn said there is a lot that goes into their preparation.
"The conference tournament is important to us, but our main focus is regionals right now," he said. We have entered what I call our ‘polish’ phase of the season. We focus on fine-tuning some techniques and focus on individual preparations. The main focus team-wise is mental preparation and how to attack these tournaments."
Flynn said it has been exciting to see the growth of girls’ wrestling at Lansing and Kansas as a whole, noting he believes it will help strengthen their boys’ program as well.
With the regional tournament coming up Feb. 21-22 at Blue Valley Southwest High School in Overland Park and the state tournament Feb. 28-29 at Park City-Hartman Arena in Wichita, Flynn said he is excited for his team to compete on these stages.
"State can be a scary and nerve-racking experience for many wrestlers of all experience levels," he said. We will spend a significant amount of time talking about how to handle our nerves with visualization and positive self-talk. With this, our kids are really excited to enter into the postseason and attack these tournaments head-on. I am really excited for our wrestlers."