Lions in first after Day One at state
Buehler, Flynn, Grape advance to state finals
Wichita The Lansing High wrestling team has spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 5A. After Day One of the state tournament, the Lions still hold that position.
LHS concluded Friday's first four rounds of wrestling atop the team standings with 99.5 points, just a hair ahead of second-place Bishop Carroll's 98. St. Thomas Aquinas is third with 91.5 points, followed by Kapaun Mt. Carmel (88.5) and Valley Center (84).
Lansing dominated all-around on opening day as nine of the 11 Lions in attendance won their opening round matches and remained alive to compete Saturday at the Kansas Coliseum. Three of the nine - junior Kyle Buehler at 135 pounds, senior Sean Flynn at 140 and junior Kyle Grape at 145 - will compete Saturday evening for state championships.
"There's no way we can be disappointed with the way the guys have competed today," LHS coach Ron Averill said. "We've had some matches that didn't really go our way. We would've liked to have won a few others. But the reality is we had an awesome day. You can tell that by looking at the team scores, by seeing how the kids did. We've got three guys in the championship finals : five guaranteed medals."
There was no question the Lions were proud of their effort from top to bottom Friday.
"Overall we've had a really solid day," Buehler said. "We might have dropped a couple matches in the quarterfinals that we maybe shouldn't have, but we've got three in the finals. I don't know if we've ever done that before."
That never has happened before for LHS. It has had multiple state finalists twice previously. In 1996, Clint Caton won the state title at 160 pounds and Marcus Farr was the runner-up at 125. In 1997, Chris Swisher was the state champ at 189 and T.J. Huhn placed second at 152.
The three state finals participants are a program record. Meanwhile, LHS already is guaranteed to tie the program record of five state medalists. In addition to the three finalists, senior Dennis Kessler and senior Logan Ryan made it to the semifinals Friday before losing, so they both are guaranteed to place anywhere between third and sixth.
Four more Lansing wrestlers have a chance to place as high as third, too, but they have their work cut out for them in the consolation bracket. Second-round losses by Dennis Wood (103), Nick Flynn (130), Casey Caton (152) and Ryan Civils (189) bumped them into the consolation bracket. They must win two matches to get into the medal rounds.
"You have to be excited about the opportunities we have tomorrow," Averill said. "We have a lot of guys coming back looking to win matches coming through the back side, and that's really what's going to determine the team championship."
The Lions entered Friday's competition with high expectations, and some of those expectations were met right away. Sophomore Dennis Wood set the tone in the first match of the day when he tussled with Liberal's Ralph Salas for a period, then opened up a 17-5 lead before claiming the pin with 13 seconds left in the match.
His teammates followed suit shortly.
At 112 pounds, junior Scott Keller suffered one of just two defeats for Lansing in the opening round. Keller battled to a 2-2 draw during the first minute before being pinned by Bishop Carroll's Jordan Keller. Lansing's other loss came at 160 pounds where senior Lance Fink was pinned by St. Thomas Aquinas' Paul Markey in the second period.
Other than those two losses, the rest of the Lions were red-hot during the first round. Sophomore Nick Flynn built a 12-5 lead against Billy Benz of Gardner-Edgerton before hanging on for a 12-10 decision. The next three Lions - junior Kyle Buehler (135 pounds, senior Sean Flynn (140) and junior Kyle Grape (145) - all won with first-period pins. Junior Casey Caton rolled to a 13-5 major decision victory over Matt Clark of Gardner-Edgerton. Then senior Dennis Kessler (171), senior Ryan Civils (189) and senior Logan Ryan (215) all won with first-period pins to complete the round.
For Lansing, the round went about as good as could have been imagined. All nine of its regional champions from last week advanced to the championship quarterfinals. Seven of those wins came by pin.
The second-round championship quarterfinals brought more successes and a few disappointments. Wood lost to Emporia's Justin Rose, 6-0. Nick Flynn was pinned by Bishop Carroll's Kyle Detmer early in the second period. Caton was on the short end of a 7-0 decision against Liberal's Joey Scott. Civils lost to Seaman's T.J. Lorson, 9-6, in his second loss to Lorson this season.
On the flip side, Buehler pinned Thomas Pipes of Winfield in the third period of his match. Sean Flynn rolled to a 20-4 victory against David Haist of Arkansas City. Grape pinned Pittsburg's Jordan Brown in the first period. Kessler erased a 6-1 deficit and rolled to a 12-7 decision against Pittsburg's Christian Lovell. Ryan edged Gardner-Edgerton's Sean Jasperse, 2-1, when Jasperse was called for a hand-locking penalty as time expired in the third period.
The evening sessions brought more ups and downs. Keller and Fink had their seasons end with 0-2 records at the state tournament. Kessler lost to Kapaun's Leo Wetta, 10-3, in the semifinals. Ryan lost to Emporia's James Sparks, 9-4, in the semifinals.
For Kessler, the loss in the semifinals was bittersweet. He was happy because he was guaranteed a medal after leaving state empty-handed each of his first three seasons, but he was disappointed because he wanted to wrestle in the finals.
"It just means I've got to do everything I can tomorrow," Kessler said. "I guess the next best thing is third."
Then there were the big wins for Buehler, Sean Flynn and Grape to advance to the state championship matches.
Buehler - a fourth-place medalist in 2005 at 125 - battled back-and-forth with Pittsburg's Tyler Koehn during the first two quarters as both wrestlers put their 39-1 records on the line. Koehn scored first on a first-period take-down, but Buehler rallied in the final seconds of the period to score an escape point and a two-point takedown. Koehn evened the match with an escape point in the third quarter, but Buehler's escape with 1:33 left in the third period gave him a 4-3 lead that stood.
"That was the toughest match I've wrestled all year," Buehler said. "Neither of us were quitting. It was 3-3 going into the third period. I just gave it my all and came out on top."
Minutes later, Buehler was joined in the state finals by Sean Flynn. Flynn - a sixth-place medalist in 2005 at 130 - manhandled McPherson's Levi Sides for three periods. Flynn was on the attack from the beginning. He piled up take-down after take-down and ultimately used a 23-7 decision to stamp his ticket to the state finals.
Minutes later, Grape made it a trio of finalists. The 2005 state champ at 140 will compete in the 145-pound finals thanks to his 25-10 annihilation of Paola's Ryan McKoon.
Grape said he was confident about his chances of becoming Lansing's first two-time state champion. That has been his expectation all season as he has built a 37-2 record.
"This is where I expected to be all along," Grape said. "There were a couple times I made a mistake during the season, but ever since then I've been getting it all back. Today was a good day. Coming in and looking at it, that quarterfinals match was supposed to be my hardest match (of the day) and I came in and just dominated the kid. I feel pretty confident going into the finals."
Flynn, too, is confident about his chances of becoming a state champion. He said he has dreamed of competing for a state championship for the past four years.
"It means a lot that it's my last chance to actually do this," he said. "The past four years I've been wanting to know what its like to sleep in the next morning and not have to worry about wrestling until 6:30 at night. I'm pretty excited about taking a nice rest tonight and waking up tomorrow for the state finals."
Buehler, Flynn and Grape will enjoy a leisurely morning as they rest up for the championship finals. The Parade of Champions will begin at 6:15 p.m. The championship matches will start at 6:30 p.m.
The rest of the team will have an earlier start, though. Wood, Nick Flynn, Caton and Civils will begin wrestling in consolation cross-bracketing at 10 a.m. Saturday. Kessler and Ryan will join the action in the consolation semifinals at 1:30 p.m.
A strong showing by all of the Lions on Saturday could give Lansing its first wrestling state title and cap a wire-to-wire run at No. 1 in the rankings.
"I think it's awesome," Kessler said of the team's chances. "It's just an awesome feeling because it just makes us feel like that (championship) ring is closer and closer."
Visit lansingcurrent.com all day Saturday for more live updates from the Class 5A state wrestling tournament.