By Brett Marshall
If ever there was a reason to explain the highs and lows of an entire season, just look at the spring weather of 2019.
Cold and snowy in early March gave way to windy, rainy and miserable conditions for competitive games and matches for Garden City High School’s eight spring sports. Games postponed and then cancelled; matches played in chilled, wet, windy conditions; track meets postponed and also cancelled. It was, without doubt, one of the toughest springs for high school athletics in southwest Kansas.
The final spring sport to complete its season was the boys golf team, delayed eight days by heavy rains, flooding at Sand Creek Station in Newton, the Class 6A state was forced to move to Firekeeper Golf Course in Mayetta, north of Topeka.
Fittingly, perhaps, since he was leading the tournament on the day it got rained out and scores washed away eight days earlier, senior Sion Audrain accomplished something no other GCHS boys golfer has done – when he captured his second individual Class 6A state golf title.
The Buffs’ senior did it with a sparkling 6-under-par 66 at the 6,519-yard, par-72 Firekeeper Golf Course in Mayetta, the same course where he won the prestigious 2018 Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship. He had claimed the 2017 state crown as a sophomore, finishing 18th as a freshman and fourth as a junior. He will play at the University of Kansas in the fall. His 6-under total equaled the record set in 1985 by Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Clay Devers, who matched the score at Alvamar Golf Course in Lawrence. Devers went on to win three Kansas Amateur titles and played at the University of Kansas.
Audrain’s score helped the Buffs to a fourth-place team finish with a score of 311, just two shots short of a third-place trophy. Freshman Theo Juhl tied for 20th with a 78, earning him a top 20 medal. Four of the top 6 GCHS golfers return for next season.
Still, the GCHS teams displayed tenacity and commitment to many successful endeavors for boys and girls track and field, girls soccer, boys tennis and golf, softball and baseball, and girls swimming.
With the close of the 2019 spring campaign on May 26 at the state track and field championship, once again the Buffaloes had finished the school year atop the Western Athletic Association Champions Cup standings against their four league rivals. It was the seventh consecutive Cup title for the Buffs, which assigns points for the 22 varsity sports of the fall, winter and spring campaigns.
With a veteran lineup of senior doubles players in No. 1 teammates Will Keller and Daniel Darter, the Buffs swept through the WAC championship by winning all four divisions – two singles and two doubles competitions – to easily win going away. That provided Huy Nguyen, Aaron Schafer, Keller and Darter, and No. 2 doubles team Tyler and Nathan Morren – with all league honors.
Keller was chosen the WAC Player of the Year while Rod Robinson was named Coach of the Year for guiding the Buffs to a repeat WAC crown.
When Class 6A regionals rolled around, it was Keller and Darter who paved the way for the Buffs’ team, winning the doubles title and advance to the state meet. At the state meet, Darter and Keller dropped an opening match before going on to post a 4-2 record, the most wins by a doubles team in recent memory at state, to place ninth, earning them a second straight top 10 finish and an overall third top 15 placing for their three state meet trips.
Darter and Keller finished their senior season with a 24-9 won-loss record, WAC and Regional championship titles; The Morren brothers ended with a 30-6 record while Nguyen was 24-12 and Schafer 19-12. All are seniors with the exception of Nathan Morren, who is a junior.
The 2020 season promises to be a major rebuilding year for the Buffs, but the JV team also had a standout season.
While the numbers on the girls swimming team were lower than they had been in recent years, the 2019 season still provided many highlights for the Lady Buffs.
Topping the list was senior Emma Tull, who placed ninth overall at the Class 6A state swimming meet after qualifying for the B Final in her specialty, the 100-yard breaststroke.
Tull just missed by .15 of a second to qualify for the A final at the May 17-18 state meet in Topeka, but her time of 1:09.23 in Saturday’s B Final, bested the other seven swimmers, and was faster than two of the swimmers who competed in the A Final the same day.
The 200-yard medley relay team and 400-yard freestyle relay team did not qualify for the state finals while Tull just missed a spot in the B Final of the 200-yard individual medley. Still, her finish in the 100-yard breaststroke was the highest state placing by a Lady Buffs in several years.
During the season, the Lady Buffs of coach Jennifer Meng won one meet, placed second in four others and was runner-up to WAC powerhouse Great Bend in the league meet.
All-WAC honors were garnered by Tull.
The 2019 baseball season for the Buffs began with a lot of promise under second-year coach Justin Reich.
The Buffs opened with five straight victories before dropping two league games to Hays High, which was the dominant team in the Western Athletic Conference.
Just past the mid-point of the season, the Buffs found themselves sitting with a 9-4 overall record, but then struggled down the stretch, dropping their Class 6A regional opener to Topeka-Washburn Rural, 12-2, to see their season come to a close with an 11-10 won-loss record. In the WAC, they were 4-4, sweeping rival Dodge City in a home-and-home two-game set.
Easton Lager and Auston Waetzig were the top batters for the Buffs, with Lager hitting .516 for the season and Waetzig close behind at .509. Waetzig led the team with 14 RBIs while Lager was next with 12. The Buffs, who struggled at times scoring runs, averaged just 5.6 runs per game.
Senior Cooper Thayer was the top pitcher, posting a 4-3 record with a 5.46 earned-run-average in 32 innings. The Buffs fielding struggled at times, finishing with an .895 percentage. Catcher Koby Acker was the top fielder with a .966 percentage, making only 4 errors in 117 chances.
Playing their final season were seniors Lager, Ethan Newberry, Ethan Martin, Elier Arreola, Thayer, Waetzig, Kevin Robles and Rawley Davidson.
All-WAC honors went to Lager and Waetzig, while Thayer, Davidson and junior Aaron Urruthia snared honorable mention honors.
Head coach Trina Moquett saw her Lady Buffs enjoy another highly-successful season, posting an overall 14-4 record, regional runner-up finish, and capturing the Western Athletic Conference title with a 7-1 record.
The Lady Buffs opened the season with 11 straight wins before dropping their only WAC test to Great Bend. They swept rival Dodge City in a pair of late-inning rallies that secured the WAC title, the fourth time that they have captured the crown in Moquett’s seven years at the helm. Her overall record at GCHS is 115 victories and 37 losses, a winning percentage of .757. The Lady Buffs have appeared in the 6A state tournament three times under Moquett, finishing a best third-place in 2017.
In the regionals at Topeka, the Lady Buffs trounced Wichita South, 17-0, in a three-inning run-rule contest before running into a buzz-saw against Topeka High, falling 8-4, after trailing 8-0 in the early going. The Buffs rallied with four runs in the final three innings, but couldn’t get that extra big hit that could have put them in position to come from behind.
Junior Yazmin Vargas finished the season with a team-leading .456 batting average and 12 RBIs, while senior Hailey Dart was close behind at .449 and 21 runs batted in. Seniors Erykah Foster (23), Dart (21), Taylor Terpstra (17) and Lauren Koster (11) also contributed to an offense that averaged 8.8 runs per game. Junior Kelbi Richter was near the top in RBIs with 19. Vargas led the team with 24 runs scored with Dart and Richter close behind with 22 and 21.
In the pitching department, Dart posted a 6-2 record with a 2.07 earned-run average and 44 strikeouts with 18 walks; Vargas was 4-2 with a 2.04 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks and Gisselle Gutierrez posted a 4-0 record, 2.33 ERA, 14 strikeouts and 6 walks.
Foster, who caught for the fourth straight season, was the team’s fielding leader with a .992 percentage, committing just one error in 125 total chances, with 7 assists and 117 putouts. Overall, the Buffs had a .919 fielding percentage.
Dart was voted the WAC Player of the Year by the league coaches while Vargas, Reagan Nordby, and Foster earned first-team honors. Moquett was voted Coach of the Year for the WAC. Lauren Koster, Terpstra and junior Richter were honorable mention selections.
Graduating seniors include Foster, Terpstra, Koster, Nordby, Dart and Ryleigh Whitehurst.
The Lady Buffs soccer enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in more than a decade, finishing with an 11-2-5 record, a Class 6A regional runner-up finish, and just one goal away from making the state quarterfinals in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Topeka High in the 6A regional title game on their home turf. The only other setback came in the third game of the season to Goddard Eisenhower.
The Buffs captured the Western Athletic Conference championship with a 5-0-3 record, with the ties coming twice against Hays and once to Liberal. For the first time in recent memory, the Lady Buffs completed a regular season sweep over rival Dodge City (4-0 and 1-0) and then toppled the Red Demons in the regional semifinals by a 4-0 count.
With a strong back line on defense, sophomore goalkeeper Hannah Kipp had a stellar season in the net, giving up just 11 goals in the 18 games, an average of just .61 goals per game. The Buffs also recorded 9 shutouts. Until the Topeka goal in the regional title game, the Buffs had not yielded a goal in 544 minutes of action.
Seniors who graduate include Leah Basilio, Noeli Munoz, Elyssa Salazar, and Fatima Vital.
All-WAC honors were secured by seniors Munoz, the WAC Player of the Year, Salazar and junior Haily Enriquez. WAC Coach of the Year honors went to Joaquin Padilla. Sophomore goalkeeper Kipp was an honorable mention selection along with Anahi Castillo and Dalia Servantez, both also sophomores.
With senior Sion Audrain leading the way, the 2019 boys golf season was a huge success.
Audrain’s second state individual title (see above), puts him in a category all by himself at GCHS, as Cole Wasinger was the only other boy to claim an individual title (1995) and Mackenzie Thayer is the only girl to capture an individual state crown.
Since the 2013 season when they didn’t reach the state, the Buffs’ team has placed fourth (2019), seventh (2018), fourth (2017), fifth (2016), fifth (2015) and eighth (2014).
After claiming regional individual medalist and team titles in the Class 6A qualifier at Tex Consolver Golf Course in Wichita, the Buffs were slated to compete in the 6A tourney on May 20 in Newton at Sand Creek Station. But flooding of the course by heavy rains over multiple days, and even weeks, forced the move of the tournament to Firekeeper Golf Course north of Topeka. That set up the Buffs for a solid fourth-place team finish and propelled Audrain to his second individual title.
Before that, though, during the regular season, the Buffs won three of the five Western Athletic Conference team events, to edge out Hays for the overall WAC title while Audrain won four of the five individual WAC tourneys to easily capture Player of the Year honors. It was his third title in four years.
During the regular season and in the postseason regional and state, the Buffs played 10 competitive rounds, with Audrain recording a program-history best stroke average of 69.8, including a 7-under-par 64 at Willow Tree Golf Course in Liberal when the Buffs shot their team best 296 to capture the title over Hays.
Midway through the season, the Buffs traveled to Edmond, Okla., for the Edmond North Invitational, and the 36-hole, one-day tourney proved to be every bit as tough as expected with the Buffs placing 12th of 21 teams and Audrain tying for fifth individually with a 2-under-par 72-70—142. All the remaining schools were from Oklahoma.
TRACK & FIELD
The state track meet also was the victim of spring inclement weather, with delays on both Friday and Saturday, forcing a Sunday finish for the first time in memory.
Senior Taylor Savolt scored all 13 points (20th place team standings) for the Lady Buffs, placing fourth in the 300-meter hurdles (46.36), coming up short in the defense of her 2018 state title in the event. She placed fifth in both the long jump (17-01.75) and triple jump (38-04.25) while taking a non-medal 10th in the 100-meter hurdles (16.26). Sophomore Julie Calzonetti was ninth in the high jump (5-00) while Kaylee Bridges and McKenna Jagels, both underclassmen, cleared non-medal heights of 9-00 and 8-06 in the pole vault. The 4×800-meter relay team of Destiny Avila, Ana Casados, Calzonetti and Kaetlin Kohlhorst clocked a 10:54.07.
The Buffs’ boys finished 23rd in the team standings with 10.5 points.
Medals were captured by Josh Janas in the pole vault (12-06) and Trey Nuzum in the discus throw (148-06) while the 4×800-meter relay team of Javyn Contreras, Nathaniel Hubbard, Ethan Fisher and Angel Ayala placed third in a season-best time of 8:09.00. Contreras placed seventh for a medal in a season-best time of 1:59.68. And the 4×400-meter relay team of Springston, Contreras, Garcia and Hubbard (8th, 3:30.89).
Other state competitors for the boys included Alex Depaz in the pole vault (12th, 12-00), Ayala (13th, 4:46.79) and Mario Bustillos (15th, 4:47.11) in the 1,600-meters; Bustillos (14th, 10:24.68) in the 3,200-meters; Terrell Elliott (16th, 38-06) in the shot put; Jarrod Springston (15th, 41-01.50) in the triple jump; Jeremy Garcia (51.31) and Hubbard (13th, 52.70) in the 400-meters.
The majority of the state competitors are underclassmen and coach Brian Hill expects a much improved team for the 2020 season.