Wristen: Ranking absence means little
A quick glance at the latest Class 5A state wrestling rankings reveals the absence of one of Kansas' traditional power programs: Lansing.
Yes, Lansing High slipped from the top 10 in the most recent poll.
There's no reason to worry, though. After all, when's the last time a midseason poll had any impact on end-of-season results?
While Lansing's omission from the latest rankings means nothing in the grand scheme of things, it is intriguing to consider why.
The answers, it turns out, are simple. The Lions have arguably their most challenging schedule in history. They also aren't at full strength yet.
First, let's examine the schedule. LHS coach Ron Averill overhauled the schedule this year to expose his wrestlers to top-tier competition weekly so they'd be better prepared when the Kaw Valley League meet, regionals and state roll around. Glitzy records are nice, but if the wins don't come against quality competition then they don't mean much.
The tougher schedule cost Lansing its state ranking - LHS opened the year ranked fourth in Class 5A - but the tradeoff was worth it with the experience it gained at the Eudora Tournament of Champions and the Emporia Winter Classic.
Lansing saw St. Thomas Aquinas, the No. 1-ranked team in 5A, at Emporia. It then saw Class 6A's No. 1 team, Goddard, at Emporia. Against opposition like that a team is bound to lose a few more matches, but Averill considers those losses to be learning experiences. Take, for example, senior Kyle Buehler's loss in the Emporia finals to Goddard's Mitchell Means.
"We'll take the loss, grow from it and move on," Averill said, confident that defending state champion Buehler would take the defeat in stride.
The schedule won't be any easier when the team returns from winter break next week. Lansing competes with Class 3A power Silver Lake and Class 4A juggernaut Santa Fe Trail in a double-dual on Jan. 4. Two days later LHS competes at the Louisburg Invitational. Then it will make its inaugural appearance at the Bobcat Classic, one of the Kansas City area's toughest tournaments of the year. Aquinas is the defending Bobcat Classic champion, so it will provide the Lions another chance to challenge the Saints.
The always tough Holton Invitational and Baldwin Invitational - which is highlighted by a matchup with national power Oak Park (Mo.) - round out the regular season schedule.
The Lions have handled their beefed-up schedule admirably considering they haven't been at full strength yet. Almost everybody on the active roster battled illness during the first few weeks of the season. On top of that, two experienced varsity wrestlers were unable to compete. Junior heavyweight Brad Terron has missed the first month of the season with a leg injury he sustained during football season. Senior Kyle Grape - a three-time state medalist and a 2005 state champion - also has missed the early part of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The Lions are getting healthier, though, and that should benefit them when the season resumes. They'll undergo an eight-week facelift during their march toward the state tournament as healthy wrestlers return from winter break and Terron rejoins the lineup. If Grape is able to return - he's hoping to be back by regionals - then that'll be an additional weapon in an arsenal that already includes four state-ranked wrestlers. Buehler (140 pounds) and Dennis Wood (103) are ranked second in their weight classes. Nick Flynn (145) and Casey Caton (171) are ranked fifth.
Will a fully-loaded Lansing squad be good enough to return to the state rankings? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: The Lions will be exciting to watch in the new year.