School is well under way into Week 3 and Garden City High School student-athletes have been gearing up for the 2019 fall sports season.
There’s a little bit of everything for the sports fan at GCHS, with the fall sports slate including football, boys and girls cross country, boys soccer, girls tennis and girls golf, and volleyball.
The Buffaloes’ 21 varsity sports enjoyed a banner year in the 2018-19 session, capturing their eighth consecutive Western Athletic Conference Champions Cup, emblematic of how the varsity sports finished in the WAC standings in each sport.
One change has been made in the head coaching roster for this fall as long-time associate coach Josue Negron has moved into the top position, replacing the just recently retired Joaquin Padilla as the boys (and girls in the spring) head soccer coach.
Otherwise, Brian Hill will be starting his 10th season and is the third-winningest coach in GCHS school history behind Dave Meadows and John Dickerson. Krista Linenberger returns for her 19th season as head girls and boys cross country, while Trent Specht begins his second season coaching the girls golf and Rod Robinson is in his 17th year as the girls tennis coach on the court.
As Trista Bailey launches her third season as the Lady Buffaloes’ volleyball coach, there is high hopes and cautious optimism permeating through the team, coaches and the program.
And rightfully so.
A 28-12 season record, an eighth consecutive Western Athletic Conference championship and four Class 6A regional titles in a row will provide much positive energy for Bailey and her veteran team.
And yet, as she acknowledged, the reason for caution rests in the performance of the Lady Buffs at the 6A state tournament where they went 0-3 and came home a day early…for the second consecutive season.
“Now we have more girls with big game experience so we have more options on the offense and more options to where we can make the pass,” Bailey said.
In her first season, Bailey led the Buffs to a 27-11 record and a trip to state, and some of her 2019 group were sophomores then and got some important experience.
“I told them the other day that there’s a different pressure this year,” Bailey said. “A group of them are now seniors and some of the juniors are beginning to see recruiting, so those pressure are battling each other some of the time. We just have to contain and work with that in the most positive way possible.”
Leading the way for the Lady Buffs is senior outside hitter Reagan Karlin, who has already verbally committed to Creighton University and is expected to sign her NCAA Division I scholarship in early November.
“She’s been the go-to offensive player for the past few seasons, but we have more options so we think we’ll be stronger across the front as a result,” Bailey said.
Karlin is a two-time Class 6A all-state selection, was the WAC Player of the Year in 2018. Senior Remi Vargas (5-3) returns as the setter after making all-WAC the previous two seasons. She, as much as anyone, sets the tone for the Buffs’ offense.
“She’s got a ton of experience and I think she’ll be even better this year,” Bailey said.
Two other seniors return in 5-6 Libero Kelbi Richter and 5-10 middle blocker Ashlyn Swan. A pair of 5-10 juniors also played and started in 2018 with Julie Calzonetti and Abby Ellerman. Calzonetti was a second-team all-WAC choice.
One senior newcomer will make an immediate impact on the Buffs and that comes in the person of Alli Meng, a 5-9 transfer from Holcomb, who is ticketed to play the right side.
“We worked a lot over the summer to get her comfortable because she’s going to be part of our other options,” Bailey said of Meng. We’ve worked hard to get her used to the speed of the game at this level.”
Four other juniors round out the varsity after tryouts were completed – 5-7 Abby Parr (defensive specialist), 5-7 Gisselle Gutierrez (defensive specialist), 6-0 Symone Simmons (right side) and 5-8 Melody Flores (right side).
“The biggest area of improvement that I’ve seen so far is just their focus,” Bailey said of the early season practices. “I think it’s a maturity thing and there is a greater sense of urgency. They’ve had high energy at our practices. We need to get better at serve/receive and our blocking needs to improve.”
The Lady Buffs open their season on Sept. 3 with a road triangular at Newton which also will include Salina Central.
Cautious optimism is the catch phrase for the GCHS girls and boys cross country program as the Buffaloes prepare for their season opener at the Great Bend Invitational.
Veteran head coach Krista Linenberger, who is entering her 19th season as the head coach and 22nd overall season at GCHS, will return two boys who competed at the 2018 Class 6A state meet in Lawrence.
Those include seniors Mario Bustillos and Ethan Fisher, who placed 53rd (17:10.9) and 57th (17:18.1) in a field of 103 competitors in 2018.
“Those two will be the leaders of our boys group this year and they have a lot of running experience and put in a good amount of summer work,” Linenberger said her two key returners. “The younger runners will have to step up for us, so there’s a lot of unknowns from them since they don’t have a lot of varsity experience. There’ s a lot of opportunities for new runners to step up.”
Linenberger said senior Austin Hess will be among the next group of varsity runners as well as junior Brody Hoff will be counted on to move up to the varsity after teetering between the varsity and junior varsity during his sophomore season. A pair of freshmen prospects include Devin Chappel and Evan Gurrola, a nephew of former GCHS standout runner Aileen Gurrola.
It is much the same on the girls side of the Lady Buffs’ roster as seniors Kaety Kohlhorst and Destiny Avila are the most experienced runners for Linenberger.
Avila was the highest finisher for the Lady Buffs, placing 67th in a time of 21:46.4. Kohlhorst, meanwhile, was 87th in 22:24.2, just ahead of graduated Taylor Savolt’s 22:26.1.
“Some of the kids put in more summer miles than others, so we’ll see how that translates into the fall season,” Linenberger said. “I think the kids will always compete hard, it’s just not a place where we know what to expect until we get them into meet conditions and competition.”
Other girls likely to step in include a pair of sophomores in Maria Balderas and Leslie Jimenez while freshman Joselyn Sosa and senior Ana Casados will be two to watch, Linenberger said.
Second-year Lady Buffs’ girls golf coach Trent Specht has some high achievement goals for his team as they enter the 2019 season.
One of the main reasons for that is the return of senior Alyssa McMillen, who finished fifth at the 2018 Class 6A state tournament after winning a sudden death playoff from Tess Roman of Shawnee Mission East following a round of 5-over-par 76, just three shots off the winning score.
“Alyssa has worked hard on her game to improve and I think she has a chance to compete at the highest level in Class 6A this year,” Specht said of his star returner. “She’s gotten better with her putting and short game, and her ball-striking also has improved.”
McMillen will be joined on the varsity roster by returners Grace Yi, Emma Kells, both of whom are seniors and played varsity a year ago and gain valuable experience at the regional and state tournaments.
Ryann Warren, Allie Sandoval and Rian Linenberger are the likely players to complete the varsity roster to start the season. Warren is a freshman, Sandoval a sophomore and Linenberger a junior.
“I think the experience gained by Grace and Emma last year will benefit them a lot this year,” Specht said of his other two returners. “There’s no substitute for playing in competition and last season should benefit both of them.
Linenberger was also a member of the eighth place Lady Buffs team from 2018.
“I know she spent a lot of time this summer working on her golf game, so I expect a great deal of improvement from her as well,” Specht said of Linenberger.
The Lady Buffs season will tee-off on Sept. 3 at the Hays Invitational to be played at Smoky Hill Country C”I like the lub. Their own Lady Buff Invitational will be Sept. 26 at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
Senior Carson Linenberger wrapped up the No. 1 team ranking during preseason practices for the GCHS Lady Buffs tennis team.
Linenberger outlasted sophomore Sage Riggs in an 8-6 battle in the final ranking event to determine the top player to begin the fall season.
“Carson got off to an early lead and was able to hold off Sage in the final ranking match,” veteran coach Rod Robinson said. “Both players have improved over last season, and I’d say Sage has closed the gap some on Carson.”
Linenberger has opted to play No. 1 singles this season, which will likely place Riggs in at No. 1 doubles, said Robinson, who is entering his 17th season at the program’s helm. Riggs’ likely doubles partner will be junior Hannah Kipp. There is a possibility that Riggs may play No. 2 singles, Robinson said, although that decision won’t be made until the Buffs get close to their season opener.
One likely candidate for the No. 2 doubles team will be senior Carole Galia, but her partner remains unknown until ranking matches to determine the Nos. 3 through 7 positions is completed.
“We’ve got some good experience at some of our positions and then we’re awfully young and inexperienced at other positions,” Robinson said. “I like the overall makeup of the team, with experienced players, and newcomers. The girls have worked hard since we started our practices.”
Competing for other spots on the varsity are Ashleigh Chappel and freshman Brooke Ptacek. With ranking matches still under way the last week of August, Robinson still had not set his lineup of singles and doubles teams.
Robinson said he believes the Lady Buffs will be favored to win the Western Athletic Conference for the sixth consecutive season and also will contend for the Class 6A regional title in early October where they qualify to play at the state tournament.
“I think we’ve got a great chance to repeat in WAC,” said Robinson of the Buffs who have won the last six league crowns. “Also, I think we have a good chance to compete for the top spot at the regionals, which will qualify us for state (October).”
The Lady Buffs will open their season on Sept. 14 at the Great Bend Invitational. Their own Lady Buffs Invitational will be Sept. 28 at the GCHS Tennis Complex.