By RICK PETERSON
Shawnee County high schools captured a pair of boys state team titles in 2023 while county athletes combined to earn a whopping 13 individual championships, led by six athletes who captured multiple gold medals.
Topeka West is No. 1 on TopSports.news' list of the Top 10 boys high school sports stories of 2023 after two-time state doubles champs Ian and Miles Cusick led the Chargers to the Class 5A state tennis title while Washburn Rural bowling is right behind West after turning in one of the top performances in state tournament history en route to the 6A boys team championship.
Individually, Shawnee Heights distance ace Jackson Esquibel won state titles in two sports in 2023 while former Highland Park star Tre Richardson and Hayden's Jake Muller, Finn Dunshee, Jensen Schrickel and Liam Stegman all captured multiple state championships.
Here's a look at TopSports.news' Top 10 Shawnee County boys prep stories of 2023:
1. TWIN TITLES -- After leading Topeka West tennis to a second-place team finish with their first Class 5A state doubles championship in 2022 twin brothers Ian and Miles Cusick and Kurt Davids' Chargers completed their title quests in 2023. The Cusicks capped their bid for a repeat with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Arkansas City's Oakley and Dawson O'Donnell in the state final while all six West players earned state medals as the Chargers won the school's first boys state team crown by a 34-28 margin over Blue Valley Southwest. West senior Carter Cool added a seventh-place state singles finish while then-juniors Caden McGee and Caleb Weybrew finished ninth in doubles and then-junor James Maag placed 11th in singles.
2. STRIKING GOLD -- A year after failing to qualify for state as a team in 2022, Jo Ricard's Junior Blues turned in a performance for the ages in the 2023 state meet, winning the Class 6A state team championship by a whopping 135 pins over Olathe Northwest (3,711-3,576). Senior Josh Hammons paced Rural with a fourth-place individual finish (725) while then-sophomore Logan Glinka finished seventh (696) and senior Walker Thompson 11th (671).
3. TRE-RIFIC -- After helping Highland Park's football team snap an eight-year losing skid with a breakout 6-3 season to end 2022, Scot star Tre Richardson helped lead the Scots to a 24-1 record and a third-place Class 5A state finish in basketball. But Richardson saved his best for last, winning a pair of gold medals in the long jump and 100-meter dash and posting four top-four finishes in the 5A state track meet. Richardson scored 33 points to outscore 32 other 5A schools by himself.
4. A GREAT DAY TO BE A WILDCAT -- Hayden's track team lacked the overall numbers to challenge for a Class 4A team championship, but the 2023 state meet was very special for four Wildcats. Senior Jake Muller in the 300-meter hurdles and then-junior Finn Dunshee in the 100-meter dash both captured individual titles and teamed with then-sophomores Jensen Schrickel and Liam Stegman to post wins in the 4A 4x100 and 4x400-meter relays as Muller and Dunshee took home three state golds and Schrickel and
Stegman two apiece. Also turning in a championship performance at state was then-sophomore Alesecio Batson of Topeka West, who won the Class 5A triple jump title.
5. DISTANCE KING -- Shawnee Heights senior star Jackson Esquibel joined an elite group of distance runners when he won Class 5A state titles in back-to-back seasons. Esquibel ended his junior track season with the 5A state championship in the 3,200 meters and followed that up with the 5A individual cross country title this past fall. Esquibel, who also finished second in the 1,600 meters in track as a junior, still has a chance to add to his gold medal haul in his final state track meet in May of 2024.
6. TRIUMPHANT TRIO -- Seaman wrestling star Jaxson Thomas wrapped up his prep career with a dominating championship-winning performance in the 2023 Class 5A state tournament while Washburn Rural champs Easton Broxterman and Landen Kocher-Munoz are just getting started. Thomas capped a successful jump from 190 pounds to 285 with a second-period pin in the 5A state final while then-sophomore Broxterman won the 6A 113-pound title after reaching the 106 final as a freshman and then-freshman Kocher-Munoz followed Broxterman's title with one of his own at 120.
7. FANTASTIC FALL -- Bill Arnold's Hayden team led a strong fall for Shawnee County football teams, overcoming key injuries to along the way to post 12 straight victories and reach the Class 3A state championship game. Cheney capped a perfect 13-0 season on a cold, snowy day in Hutchinson with a 34-7 victory over the Wildcats. Seniors Carter Charvat, Finn Dunshee and Jude Konrade and junior Jensen Schrickel eall earned TSN All-Shawnee County Top 22 honors for the Wildcats.
8. A POINT AWAY -- After winning 23 straight games in dominating fashion, Highland Park's boys basketball team suffered a last-second 55-54 heartbreaking semifinal loss to Andover in the Class 5A state tournament, ending its bid for a state title. Andover went on to claim the 5A state championship while Michael Williams' Scots bounced back with a 79-46 romp past Hutchinson in the third-place game to cap off a 24-1 campaign. Highland Park senior Bo Aldridge was named the TSN All-Shawnee County Player of the Year while seniors Tre Richardson and Jahmir Kingcannon were also Top 10 picks.
9. PLAYING WITH THE BIG BOYS -- In only its second season as a full KSHSAA member in football, Doug Bonura's Cair Paravel Latin Lions posted a nine-win season, advancing to the Eight-Man Division I semifinals before dropping a 52-6 decision to undefeated state champion Lyndon. All three of the Lions' losses came against state champions, with two coming against Lyndon and one against Eight-Man II champ Axtell. Cair Paravel will take another big step in 2024, competing in the 11-man ranks for the first time. Washburn Rural advanced to the state semifinals in 6A before dropping a 29-28 heartbreaker to Derby while Shawnee Heights and Seaman advanced to the state quarterfinals in 5A.
10. OH SO CLOSE -- While several county teams had near-misses in 2023, that was also the case for several individual athletes, who came up just short of state championships. That list includes local track and field stars Jamond Lane of Washburn Rural (second in 6A discus), Lenny Njoroge of Topeka West (second in 5A 3,200 meters), Jackson Esquibel of Shawnee Heights (second in 5A 1,600), Tre Richardson of Highland Park (second in 5A triple jump) and Jordan Garvin of Shawnee Heights (second in 5A 300-meter hurdles) as well as city swimming stars Jack Miranda of Washburn Rural (third in 6A 200 freestyle and 500 free) and Luke Perkins of Shawnee Heights (third in 5A-1A fly) and wrestling standouts Seaman Wunder of Shawnee Heights (third in 5A at 215 pounds) and Paxton Willett of Rossville (third in 3A-1A at 157 pounds). Washburn Rural's soccer team finished third in 6A, taking a 2-1 win over Dodge City in the third-place game.