Warrior season will be remembered among best
When considering successful years for Marion High School’s football program, the first that’s likely to come to mind, for those old enough to remember, would be the Warriors’ lone state champion team in 1968.
Then there’s the 1994 Class 3A runner-up, which simply didn’t have enough to handle the one-two punch of Wichita Collegiate’s DeAngelo Evans and Harrison Hill in the title game.
The Warriors had the winningest class in school history a year later and all the tools to challenge the Spartans again for state supremacy, but it never happened. Both teams exiting before the title game.
National Hall of Fame coach C.J. Hamilton and Silver Lake avenged being upended in the first round the year before and spoiled Marion’s bid to return with a 15-8 upset in 1995.
Long-time coach Grant Thierolf had many winning seasons during a career that spanned nearly three decades, but his teams never cleared the second-round hurdle again before he retired after the 2017 season.
Times weren’t exactly been great for Thierolf’s successor, Shaun Craft, when had two straight sub-.500 seasons after taking over the team.
Tragedy struck in the summer of 2020, leaving the Warriors with heavy hearts and Craft heartbroken to start the 2021-’22 season.
Both the community and Warriors rallied around Craft, giving him his best finish to date at 5-4 and following up a year later with one victory more, going 6-4.
This year, the class of 2023-’24 down to its last call. Marion rolled through the season unbeaten until the final week of the regular season and a showdown with rival Sedgwick.
The Warriors almost had enough to finally solve the Cardinal puzzle, but the curse continued with Sedgwick escaping with the regular season title, 34-28.
The loss still didn’t stop Marion from having its best regular season since 1997, going 7-1. But the runner-up finish left a perhaps more difficult road for the Warriors if they were to make it as far as they had in nearly three decades.
A daunting task awaited Marion the second round, but first, the Warriors would have to get past a team that upended them a year before, the Wabaunsee Chargers.
There’d be no denying the Warriors two years in a row. Marion demolished the Chargers 56-14, to advance to the regional round for the second consecutive year.
While surviving into the second week is a good year at Marion, it’s a level of success expected by the Warriors’ second-round opponent, the Smith Center Redmen.
That’s what happens when you win a state-best 10 titles, record what at one time was 79 straight victories, and regularly field one of the state’s top teams.
The loss to the Cardinals left the Warriors playing the Redmen, who had ended Sedgwick’s season three out of the last four seasons.
The unfazed Warriors beat the Redmen at their own game, steamrolling over their host, 38-14, for one of the biggest victories in Marion history.
Blowing out the bruising Redmen took its toll, however, and the Warriors would have to face another team even more physical and almost as successful, the Conway Springs Cardinals, for a ticket to the Final Four.
For 21 seasons, teams from the Central Plains League have had a knack for ruining the seasons of both of the county’s 11-player teams, Marion and Hillsboro, posting an impressive 13-2 record over the two.
The county’s two victories came from Hillsboro’s 2006 semifinalist team, which marked the deepest tournament run by either team since Marion’s run 12 years earlier.
This year, Conway’s brutal single-wing attack was too much to handle in a 28-20 heartbreaker.
The Warriors’ best finish since 1997 was enough to secure nine slots on the Heart of America League’s first-team, four on the second, and five honorable mentions — the most of a Heart of American league team and unheard of in 28 years.
It’s hard enough for one player to rack up 1,000 yards rushing, but the Warrions had two who did.
Quarterback Jack Lanning lead Marion with 1,465 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns, while throwing for 525 more yards and six touchdowns to finish 10 yards shy of 2,000 total yards.
Trevor Schafers wrapped up his career with 1,395 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns, giving him 2,457 yards and 39 total TDs his final two years.
While the 2023 team fell two victories short of matching the 1994 team’s success, the community pulling together behind the Warriors will be what made the season one of the best.
QB Jack Lanning
RB Trevor Shafers
WR Jonathan Frese
OL Brian Nguyen*
OL Luke Watkins
KR Jonathan Frese
DL Cole Smith
LB Trevor Shafers
LB Jack Lanning
OL Cole Smith
DL Luke Watkins
LB Brian Nguyen*
DB Jonathan Frese
TE Kadon Mercer**
OL Brayden Blackman
DL Jackson Bitonti*
DB Kellen Wanter*
P Jack Lanning
* junior **sophomore