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Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

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Morgan Sponholtz is a sophomore reporter and it is her first year on staff. She is also involved in Theatre, Choir, Hacky Sack and Sending Luv club. Outside of school she enjoys hanging with friends, baking,...

SPORTS: Fall Sports Highlights

Highlight on fall sports accomplishments and performances over the 2023 season
Celebrating with his teammates, senior Drew Rosenthal runs toward the student section after a goal at a varsity soccer game on Sept. 5.

With the conclusion of the first quarter and the beginning of November, fall sports have wrapped up for all programs. The Firebirds left their mark on the 2023 season, and now is a great time to highlight and recognize these teams and athletes before the upcoming winter season.

Down on the gridiron, the varsity football team were set ablaze to begin the season, starting off 6-0. They began the playoffs with the number seven overall seed in the west. After a commanding victory over Garden City at home, the Firebirds traveled to Manhattan, where they fell 7-21 against the Indians. The varsity team showed strength on the defensive side of the ball, and will return the bulk of its starters next year, including defensive lineman junior Hyrum Vaeono and linebacker pair juniors Crow Bengoa and Parker Moore. Offensively, six-foot-three 215 pound dual-threat quarterback Wesley Edison flashed his run-pass ability, keeping defenses on their toes. Additionally, the Birds will maintain a young offensive line, graduating only Indiana State commit senior Hank Fuchs.

Senior running back Grant Lincoln said that although he is sad about coming up short, he will not take for granted the memories and family that Free State Football gave him.

“We had a really great season and I’m so proud of the guys that came and made it happen. Of course it didn’t turn out the way we wanted but there’s still plenty of things to be proud of. I’m incredibly grateful for the coaching staff for taking us in and not just making us better players but also better people,” Lincoln said.


Steve Heffernan’s cross country program put forth a hard fought effort, as his group of runners went state-to-state and took home their sixth regional title. The boys team placed fourth at state in late October at Rim Rock Farm — senior Blake Wohler was the highest placer at the competition, finishing 13th overall in 6A with a time of 16:06.3. Following behind were seniors Ryan Whittlesey, Zach Hansen-Terry, Jake Loos and sophomore Jonah Frye who squeezed themselves in the thirties. Rim Rock is hosted and managed by Heffernan, and the course was home to this year’s 3A, 5A, and 6A state championships.

Whittlesey noted his appreciation for the journey that has been his high school cross country career.

“It has certainly been a roller coaster of emotions and accomplishments. My freshman year we won state and ever since being a part of that team we have strived to win another,” Whittelsey said “Although falling short this year, I can say these past four years have been so impactful to me. I would like to thank every person on the team who contributed to those memories, but especially coach Heffernan, who has not only done an amazing job coaching us, but has also created such a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere.”


Head Coach Jayme Savage inherited a rebuild upon entering the Volleyball program. After losing a large and talented senior class, the squad looked for new ways to find success. The Firebirds were grouped in a tough substate bracket and ultimately fell in the second round to Maize, but showed flashes of potential throughout the year. Senior outside hitter Fiona VanDyke received all Sunflower League second team honors, and junior libero Karsen Chapman as well as sophomore opposite hitter Annika Lintecum were slated as honorable mentions.

“I’m glad that I stepped up and was a leader this year. After my time in this program, I hope to remember all of the good memories I have with my coaches and teammates,” VanDyke said.


The girls golf team began the year with two varsity members, junior Merrit Hale and Liza Engelbrecht, before adding sophomore Claire Heinritz and senior Ryenn Green. Heinritz said that the team worked hard to grow together as a group, and at the last regular season tournament, Engelbrecht shot an 88, her career best. The team is looking forward to next season, and hopes to see growth in numbers and results.


The boy’s soccer team have continued to take strides in Head Coach Joe Waldron’s third year, finishing fifth in the Sunflower League. Slated in a difficult regional bracket, the Firebirds defeated Manhattan at home before falling to the Junior Blues at Washburn Rural in their regional bout. The varsity team will see off talented seniors, but a core of juniors including captains Nick Sprecker and JJ Zheng will return, foreshadowing a strong senior class with some impressive underclassmen.

Senior captain Blake Warner said that the sky’s the limit for the future of the soccer program.

“The future is full of energy and passion. [The team has] a group of individuals who’ve learned from the success and failures of this year and they know how to use that knowledge to grow. I’m excited to see the development of unity and the season next year’s team creates,” Warner said.


The girls tennis season went well for the players and Head Coach Randy Clark, with two finishers inside the top 10 at state. Senior Maya Lee took fifth, followed by sophomore Cami Lee, who finished 10th. The two competed at state in Junction City, with storm-like conditions interfering with play. The tennis team will regain former state champion Kinley VanPelt next year, who dealt with injury this season.


Coming off a second place finish at state last year and a loss of many talented seniors, the gymnastics team returned to state this year, finishing sixth. This year’s team featured a core
of young gymnasts who have stepped up to the plate and have followed in the footsteps of those before them. Although the firebirds will let go of seniors Elaina Zung, Mallory Qualseth and Jojo Warrior, they have high hopes for the future of the program. With the addition of two new coaches, the gymnastics program will look to implement more knowledge and growth as the years go on.

Junior Lindsay Hayes and sophomore Emi Stone say that they both have big aspirations for next year. For Hayes, some of her detailed goals include bettering her beam score and floor routine. Stone says that she would like to expand her skillset and develop her arsenal as a gymnast.

Fall sports are now behind us, with winter tryouts beginning in the following weeks. Congratulations to all of the fall student athletes on a successful season; seniors, thank you for representing Free State.

Boys and girls basketball tip off their seasons early in December, and the wrestling program begins their Green and Black dual in late November before their first meet on Dec 2. Boys swimming as well as bowling will be available for winter athletes.

About the Contributors
Nick Sprecker
Nick Sprecker, Sports Editor
Nick Sprecker is a junior at Free State and is the Sports Editor on staff. Outside of journalism, he is a member of the boys football and soccer program. He is involved in multiple clubs, LINK, and NHS.
Anders Benson
Anders Benson, Photographer
Anders Benson is a sophomore and a photographer for Free State Journalism! He is involved around the school in drumline, choir, and theater. Outside of school, he enjoys singing, playing music, and learning about life.
Amelia Wiles
Amelia Wiles, Photographer
Amelia Wiles is a junior at Free State and a photographer for Free State Journalism. Outside of journalism, she is a member of the girls soccer team and is involved in NHS. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with friends, traveling, and anything outdoors.
Lady Ortega-Perez
Lady Ortega-Perez, News Photo Editor
Lady Ortega-Perez is a Junior at Free State and is in her second year of journalism with the title of Photo Editor for the Free Press Newspaper. Outside of journalism, she is co-president of Key club, webmaster for the Kansas district level of key club, part of equity council, city of Lawrence coalition for equity, and choir.
Mallory Thompson
Mallory Thompson, News Photo Editor
Mallory Thompson is a junior at Free State. This is her second year on staff and she is Photo Editor for the Free Press Newspaper and Online. Outside of journalism, Mallory is involved in LINK Crew, National Honor Society, and the Student Library Advisory Board.
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