By Brett Marshall
From the hot, dog days of August when practices began, to the mid-September transformation into early fall, and then the chilled leaf-changing time of late October, fall sports at Garden City High School take on an air of excitement.
Seven of the 22 GCHS varsity sports compete in the fall – football, boys and girls cross country, volleyball, girls golf and girls tennis – create a busy home and away schedule for Buffalo athletes.
In 2018, the Buffs student-athletes had their share of successes – an eighth straight WAC volleyball championship, a nearly perfect record in girls golf en route to claiming the WAC crown, and the girls tennis sweeping past league foes to win its fifth straight net title.
To be sure, there were some disappointments, with the football team posting its fewest number of wins (2) in coach Brian Hill’s 10-year tenure with the Buffs. The girls and boys cross country teams were unable to secure berths in the Class 6A state meet, although 3 boys and 2 girls competed individually.
The boys soccer team, which posted a respectable 12-6-0 season record, reaching the 6A regional championship game, could only muster a .500 record in the WAC, going 4-4 with all four losses coming to rivals Dodge City and Liberal, another league school that moved up to 6A from 5A this year.
So at the conclusion of the quick-paced fall calendar, about 10 weeks worth of competition, the Buffs could catch their collective breath and look back with certainty that the teams had competed hard, no matter the success or lack of it in some cases.
For the eighth consecutive season, the Lady Buffs captured the WAC championship, going 4-0 against league foes on a mid-October Saturday, and also claimed six other wins against Dodge City, Liberal, Hays and Great Bend to conclude a perfect 10-0 mark against their league opponents.
“Overall, I’d say it was a pretty successful season,” said second-year coach Trista Bailey of her 28-12 Buffs. “We put our kids to think outside the box and into situations that they might not always have been the most comfortable. I’m proud of how much they matured and worked through some adversity.”
Bailey guided the Buffs to their fourth consecutive state tournament, only to see their bid to make the four-team semifinals come up short with three straight setbacks in pool play.
“The state didn’t go as we’d hoped, but I also think it was not a good reflection of how they played most of the season,” Bailey said. “We accomplished all but one of our goals, and I thought the girls got better as the season progressed.”
Only one senior – Taylor Terpstra – will graduate and move on, so the team looking ahead to 2019 will be blessed with a mountain full of experience, and talent.
Junior Reagan Karlin was voted the Player of the Year by the WAC coaches while Bailey earned WAC Coach of the Year honors. Junior Remi Vargas also earned first team all-WAC. Junior Kelbi Richter and sophomore Julie Calzonetti earned spots on the second team.
“I think getting Reagan voted as the player of the year, and Remi on first team and two on second team was a good reflection of how the coaches saw our team,” Bailey said. “I think it’s always possible that you think you could nominate more, but with so few spots available, I’m happy with what we got. I’m happy to see the kids get recognized.”
There were many questions facing the Lady Buffs golf team as the fall season arrived – a new coach in Trent Specht, a solid 1-2 punch of returners in Alyssa McMillen and Elena Lemke, but many other unproven players vying for the varsity spots.
But when the final putts were made in mid-October at the Class 6A state tournament in Salina, there were many things to put the Buffs on a solid foundation for the future.
McMillen, a junior who won every one of the five WAC tournaments while also capturing the top spot in five tournaments, placed fifth among 90-plus golfers at the state tournament with a 5-over-par 76. Her season average was 79.14 as she had one runner-up, one third, two fourths and her fifth at state.
The Buffs as a team captured the WAC, winning four of the five league meets while going a collective 27-1 against their four WAC opponents. Lemke also made all-WAC, finishing second to McMillen in the individual chase for Player of the Year honors. Grace Yi, a junior, made the honorable mention all-WAC list.
“Overall, I thought it was a great year,” Specht said. “We were only outside of the top four once and that was at state (8th of 12 teams). I thought we made good progress and every player improved from the beginning of the season. We didn’t know who our fourth and fifth scores might be, but it seemed like there was always one of those who played well enough to contribute.”
Aside from losing Lemke to graduation, Specht also loses senior Ashtyn Turrentine but returns the remainder of his varsity roster intact for the 2019 season.
“I’m looking forward to next year and I think there’s a lot of motivation amongst the girls to get better,” Specht said. “Alyssa made great strides this year, and I believe with how hard she continues to work, she’ll be competing for the top spot next year.”
There are always two primary goals for veteran GCHS girls tennis coach Rod Robinson when the fall season is about to get under way – win WAC (Western Athletic Conference) and qualify as many of his two doubles teams and two singles players for the Class 6A state tournament.
If that is the measuring stick, then the 2018 season was a considered success.
For the fifth year in a row, the Lady Buffs claimed the WAC team title, as junior Carson Linenberger and freshman Sage Riggs combined to capture the No. 1 doubles league crown. Senior Eresay Alcantar-Velasquez won the No. 2 singles title while senior Taryn Tabor was runner-up.
“I think it was a good season, but certainly we’ve had other seasons that were better,” Robinson said. “We had some new combinations in the lineup and I thought those did a good job all season.”
Linenberger and Riggs, as well as Tabor and Alcantar-Velasquez, qualified for the 6A state meet, but were unable to come up with a victory in any of the respective two matches played.
“The girls we have coming back next year are all planning to be in camps next summer,” Robinson said. “We’ll have some new faces to add in so I’m looking forward to seeing how that team will come together.
Linenberger and Riggs finished their first season as doubles partners with a 25-11 record, Tabor was 24-13 in her final season with the Buffs and Alcantar-Velasquez was 14-12. Junior Carole Garcia and sophomore Hannah Kipp, who were 23-9 at No. 2 doubles, will return to give Robinson a lot of depth on the doubles side of the lineup. Sophomore Rilee McGraw, who had limited duty at the varsity level (6-8), also returns.
Playing in the always –tough Western Athletic Conference with perennial 6A power Dodge City and newcomer to 6A Liberal, the Buffs’ boys soccer found playing outside the WAC to be somewhat of a reprieve.
Inside the WAC, the Buffs managed a 4-4 record, good for third place, but all four losses were to the Red Demons and Redskins. Outside the WAC, the Buffs were 8-2, losing in the Class 6A regional championship game to Manhattan, 4-0, after opening with a 3-0 shutout of Topeka High at home.
“We had a good season, but not a great one,” said veteran coach Joaquin Padilla. “We outshot our opponents most of the season, but we still had trouble putting the ball into the goal. It’s something we continue to strive to improve.”
Senior Salvador Bustos was named first team all-WAC while juniors Alec Keosengphet and Alonso Vera, along with sophomore Jairo Carillo, were second-team selections.
After reaching the quarterfinals of the Class 6A football playoffs in 2017, the Buffaloes had a big challenge in rebuilding.
So much so, that coach Brian Hill expected the season to be challenging, considering they had to play powerhouse Derby on the road to open the season and then later would open 5A Wichita Northwest, again another state power.
Throw in tough road match-ups in the WAC against Dodge City and Great Bend at the end of the regular season, and with the youngest lineup of his 10 seasons, the Buffs struggled. The 2—7 mark was the fewest wins in a season for a Brian Hill-coached GCHS squad.
If there is a silver lining at the end, however, it would be the Buffs return a significant number of starters for the 2019 season. Quarterback Carlos Acosta (also defensive back), running back Avey Arana, will be the skill position players to be relied upon. The entire offensive line returns intact, as at one time the Buffs had one freshman, three sophomores and a junior in the starting lineup. In all, there will be seven returners on both sides of the football in 2019, Hill said.
“We had a small senior class (17) and an even smaller number (7) who played this season,” Hill said. “So, a lot of our younger players got a ton of playing experience that will help us for the next two to three seasons. I think you’ll see an entirely different look and feel when we take the field in 2019.”
Four Buffs made all-WAC first team. Junior Refugio Chairez was named to the offensive line; Acosta to the defensive secondary, while seniors Reece Morss and Kaleb LaPointe, were selected to linebacker positions.
Second team selections included senior Ryan Jarmer at a skill position (playing more than one position) while sophomore Garrick Wells was named to the offensive line.
WAC opponents Dodge City, Liberal and Great Bend all had banner seasons in 2018, and the victim of that group was the GCHS Buffaloes. Add in the fact that the Buffs, both girls and boys, were relatively young and certainly inexperienced at the varsity level.
Juniors Destiny Avila and Kaetlin Kohlhorst, and senior Taylor Savolt, qualified for the 6A state meet in Lawrence, but did not finish among the top 20 medalists. The Lady Buffs placed fourth in regionals, just missing earning a team berth behind winner Dodge City, Derby and Wichita East. The Buffs were six points away from a team qualifying.
A strong nucleus of experienced runners will return for coach Krista Linenberger in 2019. In addition to Avila, Linenberger will welcome back seniors-to-be Kaetlin Kohlhorst and Ana Casados, rising sophomores Leslie Jimenez, Armanda Balderas and junior-to-be Jyothilakshm Kalarikkal.
On the boys side, the Buffs also placed fourth in the regional meet behind Wichita East, Dodge City and Liberal, as Liberal made its first 6A appearance after being in 5A for many years. The Buffs were led by juniors Mario Bustillos and Ethan Fisher at regionals, both top 10 finishers. The Buffs will return junior Austin Hess and sophomores Brody Hoff and Nicholas Leyva and freshman Jullian Martinez.
2018 Fall Sports – Garden City High School
All-Western Athletic Conference Selections
1st Team: Salvador, Bustos, Sr.
2nd Team: Alec Keosengphet, Jr.; Jairo Carillo, So.; Alonso Vera, Jr.
1st Team: Reagan Karlin, Jr.; Remi Vargas, Jr.
2nd Team: Kelbi Richter, Jr.; Julie Calzonetti, So.
Player of the Year: Reagan Karlin, Jr.
Coach of the Year: Trista Bailey
Offense: Refugio Chairez, Jr., Line.
Defense: Carlos Acosta, Jr., DB; Reece Morss, LB; Kaleb LaPointe, LB.
Offense: Ryan Jarmer, Sr., Skill; Garrick Wells, So., Line.
1st Team: Alyssa McMillen, Jr.; Elena Lemke, Sr.
Player of the Year: Alyssa McMillen, Jr.
Coach of the Year: Trent Specht
Doubles #1: Carson Linenberger, Jr./Sage Riggs, Fr.
Singles #2: Eresay Alcantar, Sr.
Singles #1: Taryn Tabor, Sr.