One stop from the top
Prior to last season, neither Dennis Wood nor Nick Flynn ever had wrestled in the state finals.
Upon accomplishing that feat in 2007, however, both returned home from state with heavy hearts. Sure, they made it to the Class 5A finals, but neither set out to be No. 2. Tyler Stokes of Gardner-Edgerton upset Wood for the 103-pound championship. Then Flynn fell to Kyle Detmer of Wichita Bishop Carroll in the 145-pound title match.
"It hurts when you're that close," Flynn said. "In a way, I'm almost glad I didn't win because it'll make me work that much harder."
Wood was a bit more bitter about the loss considering he beat Stokes earlier in the season.
"You knew you had it in your fingers and let it slip through," he said, shaking his head.
Flynn is as state-savvy as any LHS wrestler. He is a three-time qualifier and two-time medalist. Meanwhile, Wood transferred to Lansing as a sophomore. He made it to state that year and lost in double-overtime in the state quarterfinals. It was then that he promised himself he would become a state champion.
Neither wrestler has allowed the losses in the state finals to sour their drive to prepare for their senior season. Instead, both agreed they are even more motivated to succeed this season.
Wood played on the LHS varsity soccer team in the fall, but both he and Flynn also trained in the summer and fall with the Spartan Wrestling Club in Leavenworth and with the Kansas City Wrestling Club, led by four-time NCAA Division I All-American Eric Akin, at St. James Academy in Lenexa.
Now they're ready to turn that preparation into action and, hopefully, state championships in late February.
Practice began Nov. 12, and both returned to the practice room focused and ready to lead their freshman-heavy squad. LHS coach Ron Averill said he was counting on both seniors to set the tone early, and so far they've done that.
"I feel like the success of this program over the next four years will heavily depend on the examples that they show right now, and both of those guys are hungry," Averill said. "They're hungry, and they have a lot of good competition right around their weight to be practicing against."
Bolstered by arguably the most talent-laden freshman class in program history, the two state finalists say they are excited to go to practice every day.
"Last year pretty much the only guy my weight that I could wrestle was (Kyle) Buehler," Flynn said. "Now I've got a lot of guys : (Tyler) Baughman, Spencer (Blew), (Dillon) Scanlon and (Tyler) Terron. With all those partners, it's a good variety and it's good for everyone."
Wood will have that same luxury. Unlike Flynn, who will compete at either 145 or 152 pounds this season, Wood has spent the past two years at 103. By bumping to 112 or 119 this year, he'll have multiple practice partners for the first time in his career.
"It'll be nice that you can wrestle right at your weight if you want to," he said.
Whether it's at the Kaw Valley League Dual Tournament on Dec. 1, the Eudora Tournament of Champions, The Emporia Winter Classic, the Bobcat Classic, the Class 5A regional tournament or another intense day of practice, Flynn and Wood both admit it will be difficult not to look ahead to the state tournament.
"It's hard to take it week by week," Flynn said. "But you've just got to stay focused."
Both seniors have a large bulls-eye on their backs thanks to last season's success, and Wood said that will make it easier to see each day and each tournament as a challenge.
Ultimately, their goals are the same: Win a state championship.
"I'm looking at it as a challenge this year," Wood said. "I want that No. 1 spot. I made a promise to myself two years ago, and I'm going to make it come true."