Winter Sports Previews: Buffs teams eye big seasons

BUFFS ROUNDUP: November 26, 2019

Winter sports practices officially began the week of Nov. 18 and the season openers for all sports will start anew in December, with boys swimming, girls and boys basketball, wrestling and girls and boys bowling occupying the athletic schedule over the next few months.

WRESTLING

In his first four years as head coach of the Garden City High School wrestling program, Carlos Prieto saw his teams capture four consecutive Class 6A state team championships.

Over the past three seasons, the Buffaloes have placed third, fifth and third at the state tourney.

Entering his eighth year at the helm, Prieto believes his 2019-20 squad has an opportunity to compete for a return to the throne atop Class 6A in Kansas.

The reasons are quite apparent as the Buffs return three state champions from last year’s squad and all are seasoned veterans.

So, in a matter of speaking, Prieto’s team is loaded for bear, or in this instance, loaded for Buffalo.

Leading that trifecta of grapplers is Jacob Holt, who will move up one weight from 132 to 138 and enters the season with a pair of state titles (freshman/junior) and one runner-up finish (sophomore).

jacob holt

“He’s already has a special career, and he has a chance to do some more special things this season,” Prieto said of Holt’s pursuit of becoming the third GCHS wrestler to capture three state titles (Tevin Briscoe with 3, Michael Prieto with 4). “He’s continued to work hard to get better and he’s stronger than he was a year ago.”

Silas Pineda and Refugio Chairez are the other two returning state titleholders, with Pineda capturing the 113-pound crown and Chairez winning at 285. Pineda will be moving up to 126 pounds this year with Chairez remaining at the heavyweight slot.

welton

“There’s reason for a lot of optimism, and I’ve been getting messages from a lot of people,” Prieto said of the preseason hoopla. “At the same time, there’s reason to have some caution because there’s a lot of variables. It doesn’t mean anything at the beginning of the season. All that matters is what you do at the state tournament. We’ll have a target on our back all year.”

Two other seniors were medalists at the state a year ago, both finishing fifth, as Diago Hernandez medaled at 120 and Alexavier Rodriguez at 195 pounds. Hernandez remains at the same weight class while Rodriguez is going to wrestle at the 170-pound division this season, Prieto said. Rodriguez was ranked No. 3 at 182 prior to deciding to go to the lower weight.

“We’ve got a really good senior class and we also have a freshman class that is gonna be pretty good, assuming they make weight,” Prieto said.

Four other Buffs are preseason ranked in their respective weight divisions. A pair of freshmen are occupying the lower two weights, with Dakota Smith (106) being ranked No. 6 and Ryan Heiman (113) ranked at No. 4. Sophomore Erick Dominguez, who was fourth a year ago at 126, will enter the season ranked No. 4 at 145 pounds. Junior Josh Janas, fifth at 138 last season, is the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds while senior Jared Arellano, who didn’t place at state, is ranked No. 5.

“We have a good problem with the depth we have on this team,” Prieto said. “But like always, we need to stay healthy, make sure to keep our grades up, and then be super competitive on the mat.”

Prieto said he had approximately 65 to 75 show up for the first week of practice, and will have a full junior varsity team and schedule as well. Speaking of schedules, the Buffs will be dropping the early meet at Arvada, Colo., but will pick up a tournament in Sand Springs, Okla., the second week of January.

“The Oklahoma meet is like a meat grinder with almost all of the good Oklahoma schools attending,” Prieto said. “We’re going to find out a lot about our team in January (Rocky Welton the last weekend of the month).”

Also, for the first time, the Buffaloes will field a girls wrestling team as the KSHSAA now officially recognizes the female wrestlers as a varsity sport and will conduct a state championship as well.

“We’ve got about 10 to 15 girls out, and I think it’s something that I’m a big fan of, and we want to get more girls out, and have a full roster and schedule for them,” Prieto said. “We want their program to be just as successful as the boys.”

Certainly there is the tradition-rich history, dating back to the 1950s, to realize the past success of the GCHS wrestling team. There have been 11 state team championships and 42 individual state champs.

Prieto also has high praise for his staff of assistants, all of whom wrestled for the Buffs. Paul Lappin serves as the assistant head coach with Kevin Perez, Jacob Waller and Shannon Ford rounding out the high school group.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

The 2018-19 Lady Buffaloes doubled their previous two combined seasons win total by finishing 12-10 after going 6-16 and 6-15 under then new coach Matt Pfeifer.

Pfeifer’s team improved dramatically a year ago, still with many underclassmen seeing starting duty or reserve duty as the team lost to then unbeaten Liberal in the Class 6A sub-state championship game.

Girls BB v Dodge

While there is no one big scorer/rebounder returning, Pfeifer does welcome back three returning starters in 5-9 junior forward Julie Calzonetti (7.7ppg, 5.8rpg), 5-10 junior forward Keyhana Turner (6.5ppg, 5.2rpg, 3.3apg) and 5-4 senior guard Felicity Rodriguez (5.6ppg, 2.3apg). Calzonetti and Turner have been playing varsity since their freshman seasons.

Pfeifer hopes to see more points with his experienced players, after seeing his team average 42.8 points off 34 percent field goal shooting. The Buffs did average 10.6 assists and 11.1 steals per game.

One of Pfeifer’s top reserves a year ago is also back in 5-11 junior post Symone Simmons, a left-hander who averaged 4.5ppg and 3.4rpg off the bench.

Newcomers who could impact the Buffs include 5-4 senior guard Nateara Beasley, (3ppg, 1spg), 5-10 senior forward transfer Alli Meng and 5-6 freshman guard Amaya Gallegos.

“We have a lot of returning varsity experience and our team will be competitive and a fun group to coach,” said Pfeifer, a nearby Holcomb High graduate. “We are looking to build on some success from last year and translate it into a higher finisher in the WAC. The league is as solid from top to bottom as it has been and Liberal will be one of the better teams in the state.”

The Lady Buffs will open their 2019-20 season on the road at Guymon, Okla., on Dec. 10, and then return home the following week for the Roundball Classic where they will face Palmer Ridge and Coronado, Colo. teams as well as finishing off on Dec. 14 with Class 3A state entry Scott City.ds

With respect to the upcoming WAC race, which won’t get under way until January, Pfeifer expects Liberal to be atop the standings as the Lady Redskins return a pair of Division I signees. Dodge City and Hays also return a strong cast of players and Great Bend should be improved, Pfeifer said.

“In just a couple of seasons, the WAC has become a pretty competitive league,” Pfeifer said of the double-round robin schedule the team faces.

BOYS BASKETBALL

The 2018-19 Garden City Buffaloes boys basketball season was one of the most successful in school history, with the team finishing 17-5 and just lost a close battle at Lawrence High in the Class 6A sub-state championship game.

That mark was the fifth best in school history, and marked the best record in Jacy Holloway’s 9-year-tenure as the Buffs’ head coach. For a player who holds the distinction of being just one of two boys basketball players in Kansas history to start and play on four consecutive state titles, it was a year to enjoy and be reflective on.

Holloway, the former Moundridge High and Iowa State standout, lost 10 seniors from that squad and expected two returning starting guards to form the nucleus of this year’s team.

“The seniors last year really set a standard of team play,” Holloway said. “Out of that group only one player went on to play college ball, so that speaks highly of how well they played together and they were very unselfish.”

Even before preseason practice got under way, the Buffs and Holloway lost their top returning scorer in 5-9 senior point guard Carlos Acosta (12.4 ppg) to a knee injury suffered during the football season. It will likely sideline him the entire season.

That leaves Azavier Williams (5-11, Sr.) as the only returning starter after averaging 8.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists his junior campaign after he had transferred in from Chicago.

GCHS vs Liberal High School
Garden City High School’s boys basketball team hosted Hugoton High School on Tuesday February 5, 2019 at The Garden. The Buffalos defeated the Eagles 65 – 43.

Holloway’s varsity roster will be comprised of a group of players, mostly underclassmen, who played  junior varsity, freshman or eighth grade ball a year ago.

“Speed, athleticism and perimeter play will be key areas of strength for us,” Holloway said. “We will have a lot of guards playing at the same time, and a lot of guys who shoot the 3 well.”

Among other candidates to see action are Isaac Flores (5-8, Jr.), Tae Rosales (5-10, So.), Aaron Guevara (6-2, So.) and Carson Tanner (6-4, Sr.). The youth movement could also see others inserted into the lineup as the season progresses and that group includes Isaiah Reyes (5-8, Jr.), Luke Tolbert (5-9, So.), Cooper Ramsey (6-3, So.) and Caleb Wiese (6-4, Fr.).

“We might have two sophomores and a freshman on the floor at the same time,” Holloway said of his youthful group. “Our lack of size and uncertainty with post play, and a lack of experienced depth will be things we need to see improve.”

Among other challengers for varsity slots and playing time are 6-4 junior post Trey Nuzum, who sat out his sophomore year, but did play a lot his freshman season. Zach Warren, who was one of the junior varsity defensive standouts last year, moves up and will likely see playing time.

So a season after winning the WAC (7-1) and making a run at a state tourney berth, this will be one of Holloway’s youngest teams as he begins his 10th season (106-92). The Buffs open Dec. 10 at Guymon, Okla., and then will host the Roundball Classic Dec. 12-13-14 when they will play Palmer Ridge, Colo., Coronado, Colo., and Scott City, all games at home.

BOYS SWIMMING

Third-year coach Brian Watkins is excited about the prospects of his 2019-20 Buffs’ swimming team despite the key losses of graduating seniors Aaron Fischer and Will Keller, among others.

Two returners who gained valuable experience a year ago are juniors Connor Cupp and Jeremiah Bunce. Cupp qualified for the 6A state meet in the 100-yard butterfly as well as all three relay teams. Bunce also was on those relay teams (200-yard free, 200-yard medley, 400-yard free) and Watkins expects them to be among the team leaders this time around.

Peter Hall, a senior, is expected to swim on the relay teams this year while junior Brody Hoff earned medals in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events at the Western Athletic Conference meet, in which the Buffs captured the team championship.

Watkins said the summer swim program produced a number of prospects who are now entering their freshman seasons. That group includes Kobe Otero (open events), and Devon Chappel, who likely will swim freestyle events. Otero was a Missouri Valley champion this past summer. Sophomore Joel Contreras, who was an alternate on the state meet relay squads, will be another strong candidate for those events.

“The boys have pretty high goals and they want to qualify someone in every event for the state meet,” Watkins said. “I think with the returners we have and then our incoming freshmen, that’s not an out-of-hand goal. We’re really deep in a lot of events and I think that gives us a lot more options on who will swim in different events.”

Watkins said he was encouraged by the number of participants, 29 this season with 22 of those returning.

“We had a really good summer and there’s a lot more participation from the GCHS students who have come together,” Watkins said.

The Buffs, who practice daily at the YMCA Pool, will open their season on Dec. 5 at Salina.

“We’ve been going pretty hard in practice, and it will be nice to have a JV with the numbers this year,” Watkins said. “We’ll be able to begin developing young swimmers to move from JV to varsity.”

BOWLING

GIRLS

Kip Nichols has been the only head bowling coach at Garden City High School since the program started in the mid 2000s. During the past decade and a half, the Buffs have won a state boys and girls Class 6A state team championship, he’s had a state boys individual champion and a girls state runner-up bowler.

Last year, the Lady Buffs, with a seasoned and veteran cast, finished as the Class 6A runner-up to Haysville-Campus for the second straight season. Three of those bowlers graduated after a four-year run of varsity competition that saw them win in 2017. Campus has won four of the last five 6A state titles.

Returning for Nichols, though, are four solid varsity rollers in Karly Larson (6th at state), Holly Bridges (19th), Emilee Giger (32nd) and Angelina Leeper (42nd). Nichols said he had 10 girls register for the team this season, with the top six making varsity.

“I like the group we have coming back, they have a lot of experience,” Nichols said. “They’ve all experienced what it’s like to compete at the regional and state level.”

Tryouts and qualifying will take place the week of Dec. 2-6 and then the Buffs will begin their season on Jan. 11 at the Wichita-Bishop Carroll Invitational. Home matches this year will be Jan. 14, 21 and Feb. 13.

BOYS

A strong contingent of 20 bowlers will vie for the six varsity and six JV roster slots for Nichols when tryouts and qualifying begin the week of Dec. 2.

A fourth-place finish in Class 6A state a year ago is sufficient to inspire the Buffs to look for higher goals in the 2020 season.

“There’s a lot of talent, and when we put things together, I think we’re going to have a pretty solid team,” Nichols said. “They have been bowling a lot over the years and know what kind of competition to expect.”

Kaden Whitehurst, now a sophomore, placed ninth as a freshman at the 6A state tourney and is the team’s top returner. Others who competed last year and will be battling for the varsity spots include juniors Caleb Carr and Caiden Orozco, sophomores Ty Weilert and Dinocio Resendiz and senior Zane Roth.

The Buffs will only have three home matches this season, Jan. 14 vs. Liberal (Garden Bowl), Jan. 21 vs. Great Bend (Hard Rock Lanes) and Feb. 13 vs. Dodge City (Hard Rock). Their season opener is Jan. 11 at the Wichita-Bishop Carroll Invitational.

 

 

 

 

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