Winter Sports: Mid-Season Report

The winter sports calendar begins the first week of December and finishes with state tournaments in late February to mid-March.

One month into the 2018-19 seasons, the athletic teams of Garden City High School have gotten off to strong starts.

WRESTLING

With a relatively young lineup, the Buffaloes wrestling team began its 2018-19 season at the Battle of the Best Duals in Pine Creek, Colo. The Buffs had seven dual meets, winning all of them to post a first-place finish. Highlighting the tournament was a hard-earned 42-36 win over highly-regarded Ponderosa High School (Colo.) and a 48-32 win over Pueblo (Colo.) East.

The second tournament of the season saw a return to the Rocky Mountain state, where the Buffs went 5-0 to win the Palmer Ridge Rage Duals. The closest match for the Buffs came against Adams City (Colo.) in a 46-30 victory. The Buffs also had a dual the day before, beating Coronado High School, 40-18. In all, the Buffs went 13-0 in dual matches.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” head coach Carlos Prieto said in assessing the December results. “I think we still can be a really good team. Once we get everybody in the lineup, I like our team’s chances.”

Closing out the December schedule just before the holiday break, the Buffs headed to Kansas City, Mo., where they competed in the Kansas City Stampede, perhaps the toughest event in which they participate all season.

With 40 teams entered from more than a dozen state, the Buffs placed 24th, with Anjie Serrano placing second (3-1) in the 126-pound girls division; Alex Rodriguez was seventh (5-3) at 195 pounds while Refugio Chairez, in his debut tournament of the season, placed fourth (4-1) at 285 pounds. Overall, the Buffs won 46 matches and lost 36 in KC.

The Buffs concluded December as the No. 5-ranked Class 6A team as voted by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association after being ranked as high as No. 2.

“The rankings we can use as motivation for the team in our practices,” Prieto said. “I still think we’re a top 3 team when we have our full lineup.”

The Buffs, like all winter sports teams, had a break from Dec. 22 to Dec. 28 before resuming practices as a prelude to their Jan. 3 Western Athletic Conference opening dual at home against Dodge City at The Garden (6 p.m. junior varsity, varsity to follow at approximately 7 p.m.).

“Our conditioning has been good,” Prieto said. “I think we’ve worked them as hard as any team since I became the head coach (2012-13). We continue to work on fundamentals and techniques so I really like where we’re at in those areas.”

Some of the top performances have come from newcomers such as freshman Tyler May, 13-0 at 220-pounds; 2017 6A state champion junior Jacob Holt (12-1 at 132 pounds); junior Alex Rodriguez (18-3 at 195 pounds); while seniors Jared Arellano (16-6, 152 pounds) and Alex Garcia (16-6, 160 pounds) have provided upper class leadership.

A pair of 126-pounders have battled toe-to-toe all season, with junior Diago Hernandez going 17-4 while freshman Erik Dominguez has posted a 16-6 mark. Junior Silas Pineda is 17-4 at 120 pounds and senior Alex Herrera is 11-2 at 113 pounds.

The Buffs will also be hosting the 2019 Class 6A super regional tournament on Feb. 15-16 at The Garden. There will be 18 competing schools from the western half of the 36 Class 6A schools. The top 8 wrestlers in each weight division will advance to the state tournament on Feb. 22-23 at Hartman Arena in Park City, just north of Wichita.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

In just his third season as head coach Matt Pfeifer has guided the Lady Buffs to a 5-1 record in December for one of the fastest starts to a season in school history.

The Buffs have beaten Guymon, Okla.; Coronado, Colo.; Palmer Ridge, Colo.; Holcomb and Junction City while suffering their lone setback on the road to Bear Creek, Colo. in Denver.

Defense has played a key role in the success of the Lady Buffs, with the team holding opponents to just 36.8 points per game. In the three games of the Roundball Classic in early December, the Lady Buffs yielded just 22, 27 and 29 points in the three victories. Senior Taryn Tabor was chosen to the elite 5-player All-Tournament team for the Classic.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Lady Buffs have averaged 49.3 points per game, nearly a 13-point advantage over their opponents.

The encouraging part for Pfeifer, too, is that Tabor is the lone senior starter.

“The girls have shared the ball really well (on offense),” Pfeifer said of one of the team’s strengths. “The team’s chemistry has been good considering we have a number of players in new roles this season.”

Pfeifer said he has liked the fact that different players have led the team in scoring in different games, but would like to see improvement on the defensive end.

“We’ve got some confidence, and it was nice to get the (road) win at Junction City before the break considering we didn’t think we played all that well,” Pfeifer said. “The WAC will be tougher, so we’re going to have to make improvements in all phases to continue to be successful.”

With practices re-starting on Dec. 28, the Lady Buffs will have eight days to prepare for their Western Athletic Conference opener on Jan. 4 at Great Bend.

BOYS BASKETBALL

With a senior-dominated lineup, the Buffs of coach Jacy Holloway got off to their strongest start since the 1971-72 season by winning their first five games of the season.

In addition to opening the season with a win over Guymon, Okla., the Buffs then went 3-0 in the Roundball Classic at home, beating Coronado, Colo.; Palmer Ridge, Colo.; and Finney County rival Holcomb on a dramatic, last-second putback by senior Jackson Dirks for a 48-46 triumph.

Junior point guard Carlos Acosta had a terrific three-game performance and was awarded the Most Outstanding Player honor by media covering the tournament from the eight competing teams.

One of the best wins, though, came on Dec. 14 when the Buffs traveled to Bear Creek, Colo. and overcame an early nine-point third-quarter deficit to rally for a 52-47 victory to remain unbeaten at the time.

The Buffs closed out their December schedule with a difficult road trip to once-beaten Junction City, only to see the Bluejays produce a 54-39 triumph. The Buffs were hampered by the absence of second-leading scorer Kyler Lamb, who had to sit out after undergoing nose surgery the day before. He is expected to return in January.

“I think we saw the impact that Kyler has had on the team when we didn’t have him for the Junction game,” Holloway said. “He impacts us in so many different ways – defense, rebounding, scoring, passing the ball.”

The Buffs’ offense has been consistent by averaging 50.8 points per game while their defense, too, has been stingy for most of the early season games, yielding just 45.5 points per game. The setback to Junction City was the first game where an opponent scored more than 50 points.

“Certainly at times we’ve played well, especially on the defensive end,” Holloway said, “although we still have many areas in which to improve in that area. I think we’ve rebounded the ball well. Offensively, we’ve done a good job of passing and sharing the ball. It’s an unselfish group and they really enjoy playing together. I think we can do an even better job of scoring once we begin shooting better from the perimeter.”

In addition to his three-game stellar play in the Roundball Classic, Acosta set a personal scoring high of 27 points in the road win at Bear Creek, with 24 of those coming in the second half rally. “He’s done a good job of scoring the ball in different ways,” Holloway said of the 5-9 junior point guard.

Returning to practice on Dec. 28, the Buffs will begin preparations for the Western Athletic Conference schedule which starts Jan. 4 with a road game at Great Bend.

BOYS SWIMMING

In just their second season since the program was re-instated in 2016-17, the Buffs swimmers produced an impressive December, placing third among six teams at two different meets, fifth of eight teams in another and then capped off the opening month with a victory in their own triangular over a pair of Western Athletic Conference opponents.

Seniors Will Keller and Aaron Schafer have been the top individual performers, while relay teams also have performed well. The Buffs’ medley relay (each swimmer swims a different stroke) has already met the state qualifying mark with its time of 1:50.88 (Connor Cupp, Schafer, Keller, Jerry Bunce). State consideration times have been posted in the 200-yd. freestyle relay with Bunce, Nate Hubbard, Keller and Schafer comprising the squad with a time of 1:41.53. Cupp also has state consideration times in the 100 backstroke (1:02.14) and the 100 butterfly (59.34).

In their home triangular, the Buffs garnered 246 points to easily outdistance Dodge City’s 197 points while Liberal was a distant third with 104 points.

First-place finishers were captured by Schafer in the 100 breaststroke (1:11.52), Esai Morales in the 100 backstroke (1:14.45), the 200 freestyle relay of Keller, Bunce, Hubbard and Schafer (1:41.53), and the 200 medley relay team of Morales, Schafer, Keller and Bunce (1:55.22).

The team had earlier competed in meets at Salina and Great Bend where the Buffs placed third of six teams and then were fifth of eight teams at the tough Hutchinson Invitational.

“The boys had a lot of success in the month of December,” said head coach Brian Watkins. “The medley relay accomplished its goal of making state time in Great Bend.”

Watkins said while the seniors, especially Schafer and Keller leading the way, it had been the underclassmen who have provided depth to the team’s second season of competition.

“Our points standings in meets have not been as great as we hoped, but we are shooting for good times before and then strategize points scoring when we get closer to the end of the season,” Watkins said. “Aaron and Will have led the way in points earnings and have shown great leadership, but the underclassmen have been the story of the month. Our freshman and sophomore classes have really stepped it up to fill some empty spots we have in our lineup.”

Watkins cited sophomore Morales as one of the big surprises, trimming 18 seconds off his 100 backstroke to become the No. 2 spot on the team in the event.

“I’m looking forward to what this team accomplishes the rest of the season,” Watkins said.

The Buffs return to the pool on Jan. 3 when they travel to Great Bend for a 4 p.m. meet.

BOWLING

Coach Kip Nichols used the late November, early December week to go through qualifying games for his Buffs’ bowling teams.

The Lady Buffs returned the entire team from the 2018 Class 6A runner-up team that had captured the state championship in 2017. In the 12-game qualifying stage, however, one new face cracked the six-player varsity roster in the person of freshman Holly Bridges. She unseated last year’s sixth bowler, junior Emilee Giger, who ranked No. 7.

Leading the qualifiers was senior Ryleigh Whitehurst, the 2017 state runner-up, with a 197 average, Nichols said. Bridges was the second highest qualifier, followed by senior Faith Whited, senior Alexis Leon, and juniors Angelina Leeper and Karly Larson. Showing how deep this team is the fact that Larson was the girls’ top finisher at the 2018 state tourney with a seventh place individual medal.

“This group is incredibly talented, and if they come in with the right attitude then they have an opportunity to have a great season,” Nichols said. The only tournament the Lady Buffs didn’t win last season was the state meet, capturing the Bishop Carroll tourney, the Great Plains Invitational in Wichita, the WAC and the regional tournament.

“Any one of those six is capable of being our top bowler on a given day,” Nichols said.

The Buffs’ boys, meanwhile, will be youthful on the six-man varsity squad after the team struggled down the stretch in 2018, missing qualifying for the state tournament in the regional tourney.

Only two returners are back from last season’s varsity, with sophomore Caidan Orozco claiming the No. 4 qualifying position after placing 41st at the state tournament. Senior Brayden Bicket qualified second for Nichols, having finished 53rd at the state meet while also being a member of the 2017 6A boys third place team.

The top qualifying spot this time around belonged to freshman Kaden Whitehurst, who averaged a stellar 218 for the 12-games. Senior Ethan Newberry was the third qualifier, followed by Orozco, freshman Ty Weilert and another freshman, Dionicio Resendiz, who averaged 176 pins.

The opening tournament of the season will be Jan. 5 at the Wichita-Bishop Carroll Invitational. The girls will bowl at 10 a.m., followed by the boys at 1 p.m. The tourney will be at West Acres Bowl in Wichita.

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