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SJA FRESHMAN A CHAMPION St. James freshman Stephen Tujague, Shawnee, won the 106pound title at the Bobcat Classic wrestling tournament on Saturday. Page 17.




Earning it all back and more SMNW junior rises in ranks while seeking redemption By Stephen Montemayor

LaPhonso McKinnis is standing at the highest of three wooden boxes, a “1” emblazoned on its front. A firstplace medal draped around his neck, the Shawnee Mission Northwest junior holds a white poster of his weight class’s bracket, given to each Dick Burns Mat Classic champion after a long early January afternoon in Bonner Springs. He’s smiling as he holds his bracket out front for photos, doing so in betrayal of young athletes’ instincts to sport a gruff face in front of a camera. Barely 11 months earlier, McKinnis stood before his varsity wrestling teammates one afternoon at practice, choked with regret. It was the Monday before the district wrestling tournament. Just one month into his first varsity season, the 170-pounder couldn’t help his team. Days before, the life he led caught up with him. “I used to steal a lot,” McKinnis says now, sitting not far from where he first delivered the news to teammates. “Just anything and everything I could get my hands on. I’d just … I’d steal it.” In the year since, McKinnis has worked to earn back trust and improve his performance in the classroom. In the process, he has become recognized by wrestling coaches in the state as one of the best in his class — all while outracing the demons that once haunted him.

Stephen Montemayor/Staff

SMNW JUNIOR LAPHONSO MCKINNIS is ranked No. 3 in Class 6A at 170 pounds in the latest Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association rankings. Along the way, he’s won two tournaments and worked to earn back trust after mistakes from years past. First taste of gold McKinnis didn’t want a break. After winning his first career tournament title at the Johnson County Classic last month, he wanted more, instead settling to wait for the Dick Burns Mat Classic. As it happened, the Bonner Springs tournament marked the one-year anniversary of McKinnis’ first varsity meet — which also saw him record his first pin and, later, a fifth-place finish.

This season, his second as a varsity wrestler, McKinnis won the thirdplace match at his team’s annual home tournament one week before the Johnson County Classic. Still, he entered the Classic under the radar, seeded sixth. “And I had to fight for that,” SM Northwest coach Howard Newcomb said. After overcoming a loss on the first day of pool competition, McKinnis

fought his way back up the championship bracket, along the way settling a score fresh on his mind since last season. SM West senior Jordan Dillard couldn’t have known just how much McKinnis had thought about a rematch. Dillard couldn’t have known just how much his 33-second pin of McKinnis at the 2012 regional tournaPlease see MCKINNIS, page 18


MVHS girls emerge clear winners in battle of KVL unbeatens By Corey Thibodeaux Special to The Dispatch

BONNER SPRINGS — The best coaching decision Mill Valley girls basketball coach John McFall made Friday was to get out of the way and let his team shoot. At Bonner Springs, the Jaguars piled on the points early with a barrage of threes. By the end of the first quarter, it was clear that one of the two undefeated Kaw Valley teams had come to play. “It’s like I told them,” McFall said,

“when we shoot the ball, we’re pretty darn good — because we defend.” Mill Valley went on to defeat Bonner Springs, 47-21, anchored by a dazzling 26-7 first quarter in which the Jaguars made 9 of 10 shots, including six threes. They were fearless on offense, taking advantage of every miss and turnover by the Braves. “You could just see that when they were burying three-pointers and we were missing layups on the other end, it just deflated us,” BSHS coach Clay Oakes said. “We kept playing hard the second half, but tonight was their

night.” Mill Valley seniors Tanner Tripp and Stephanie Lichtenauer led the game with 14 points each and Mackenzie Conklin added 11. The three girls combined for eight three-pointers, including those six in the first quarter. Bonner Springs struggled to find scoring, as most teams have when playing Mill Valley this year. Senior Anna Deegan had six points. Sophomore Kaleigh Taylor had five off the bench. The disparity of the two teams shrouded the magnitude of the game.

The Braves (7-2, 5-1) and Jaguars (7-1, 6-0) were among the elite teams in the Kaw Valley League going into Friday, but a more experienced Mill Valley team used age to its advantage. Oakes did note that he was encouraged with his team never losing its passion in spite of the scoreboard. Other than the two returning varsity players on Bonner Springs, many of the girls had not played in this kind of marquee matchup. But the Braves lost earlier in the year to Piper and ran off Please see MVHS GIRLS, page 17

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