If local wrestling fans want to get a sneak preview of the Class 6A state tournament in Wichita on Feb. 22 and 23 in Hartman Arena, look no further than The Garden on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15 and 16, on the campus of Garden City High School.
Of the top 10-ranked Class 6A schools as voted upon by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association, 7 of those teams will compete for the top 8 spots in each of 14 weight classes to advance to the state tournament the following week.
Of those seven teams, the top four will be in a dogfight battle as No. 1 Derby, No. 2 Manhattan, No. 3 Garden City and No. 5 Topeka-Washburn Rural will be entered. Throw in No. 6 Haysville-Campus, No. 7 Dodge City and No. 8 Lawrence-Free State, and it becomes apparent that it will be tough sledding on the mat for any wrestler in any weight division.
Championship first-round matches will get under way at 1 p.m., followed by championship quarterfinals, first-round consolation and championship semifinals. Saturday’s action begins at 9 a.m., with consolation cross-bracketing matches. The consolation quarterfinals and semifinals will follow, then continue with 7th-8th, 5th-6th and 3rd-4th place matches before the championship finals will begin at approximately 2 p.m.
The host Buffaloes will be looking to qualify as many of their wrestlers as possible after a fifth-place finish at the 2018 state tourney, following a third-place 2017 standing. That year brought an end to the four-year run of state titles by the Buffs from 2013 to 2016.
Now in his seventh season as the Buffs’ head coach, Carlos Prieto likes where his young squad has arrived heading into the regionals. They are rested and for the most part healthy after concluding their regular season more than a week ago.
“For sure, it’s gonna be tough,” coach Prieto said early this week. “But we’re used to that. We wrestle a tough schedule and in some cases wrestling against tougher competition than we’ll see here. But the main thing is to go out and wrestle hard, wrestle well and do it with enthusiasm and confidence. We wrestled well at the (Rocky) Welton here at home and we want that to carry over to the regionals.”
Headlining the Buffs’ roster, comprised mostly of underclassmen, will be junior Jacob Holt (29-3), ranked No. 1 at 132 pounds, and following up his freshman (state champion at 113) and sophomore (runner-up at 126) seasons with another stellar performance.
Another of the talented junior class is Silas Pineda, now ranked second at 113 pounds and is 35-9 after a third-place state placing in 2018. Juniors Fuji Chairez (21-8) is ranked No. 2 at 285 pounds after a fifth-place 2017 state finish while Alex Rodriguez (36-8) is ranked No. 6 at 195 pounds after placing sixth at 170 pounds a year ago.
Three other underclassmen come into the regionals ranked in their respective weight division – Diago Hernandez (120, Jr., 32-8) is ranked third, Erik Dominguez (126, Fr., 22-15) is ranked sixth and Josh Janas (138, So., 29-16) is also ranked sixth.
With a full two weeks off from competition, Prieto said his Buffs were ready to return to the mat.
“They’re chomping at the bit,” Prieto said of the long layoff. “But it’s given us a chance to get rested and to get healthy, so I think it’s been a good thing. Getting a good crowd out should be a big boost to the kids.”
The remaining six slots will be manned by unranked wrestlers, and the Buffs will not have an entrant at the 106-pound division.
Others in the lineup will include three seniors – Elijahblu Ruiz-Hernandez (145, 13-14), Jared Arellano (152, 22-15), and Andrew Garcia (160, 16-10); two sophomores – Jacob Sims (170, 17-15) and Cole Thompson (182, 17-15), and a freshman in Tyler May (220, 20-11).
Teams entered are Derby, Dodge City, Garden City, Gardner-Edgerton, Haysville-Campus, Hutchinson, Junction City, Lawrence, Lawrence-Free State, Liberal, Manhattan, Topeka, Topeka-Washburn Rural, Wichita-East, Wichita-North, Wichita-South, Wichita-Southeast, Wichita-West.
Admission prices on Friday are $6 for adults and $5 for students K-12. On Saturday, the prices are $8 and $7.