BUFFS ROUNDUP: Wednesday, April 1, 2020:
Note: This is one of an upcoming series highlighting some of Garden City High School’s senior spring athletes, who had their final year of athletics canceled due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
Noah Ortiz was excited about the prospects of his senior season on the Garden City High School golf team.
After all, he had been playing his sophomore and junior seasons in the shadow of two-time Class 6A state champion Sion Audrain, who had graduated in 2019 and headed off to the University of Kansas to play for the Jayhawks.
Ortiz had been an honorable mention all-Western Athletic Conference selection his junior year, highlighted by a medalist performance at the Ulysses Invitational and an eighth-place finish at the Class 6A regional tournament.
“The team we were going to have had a nice mixture of a couple of us seniors (Reid Richmeier was another senior returner), along with some young guys who were working very hard,” Ortiz said recently in an interview at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course. “During those first couple of weeks of preseason, we had four kids shooting in the 70s and I think the team would’ve been good.”
But through circumstances far beyond anything Ortiz or anyone could imagine, the spring 2020 high school sports season and in-building teaching was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was at work (part-time help at Buffalo Dunes) when I saw the news about the virus and what the decision about school and spring sports would be,” Ortiz said. “It was disappointing at first since I lost my senior year of golf, but I’m still out here able to golf.”
Like many, Ortiz said he had difficulties comprehending the extent of the virus and its overall impact on society.
“I think we just kind of went into a panic at first,” Ortiz said. “We’re so used to social hour and being at school. It’s still hard to get used to, but it’s been easier lately. I’ve stayed at home more and then I’ve spent time out here at Buffalo Dunes.”
With extra time, and able to spend more hours at the golf course, Ortiz said he has seen improvement in his short game (pitching, chipping, sand bunkers, putting).
“I had been good off the tee my junior year and I was decent with my irons, but I lost a lot of strokes because I couldn’t get it up and down from around the greens when I missed,” Ortiz said. “The practice I’ve been doing has seen a lot of that come together.”
Having played on a state tournament team the last two seasons, including a fourth-place finish in 2019, Ortiz would have been among the most experienced players on the 2020 team.
“I was looking forward to a chance to go back to state,” Ortiz said. “It was exciting to think about how we might finish as a team.”
In addition to the two seniors, the Buffs were returning underclassmen Theo Juhl and Cayden Cundiff, who also played on that state tournament team in 2019. Ortiz had seen his scoring drop dramatically after averaging 85 for his 18-hole events last season. He had three top 10 tournament finishes in that stretch.
“Everybody had been working really hard in preseason,” Ortiz said of the first two weeks of March practice. “We had several of us shooting in the 70s, so it was encouraging to know that we were going to have a good season if all of us continued to work hard.”
For Buffs’ coach Trent Specht, the loss of the 2020 season was heartbreaking for the seniors who didn’t have that one final opportunity to display their skills.
“Noah recognized his flaws in his game from last season, and he took things seriously and worked in the off-season to get more consistent with every aspect of his game,” Specht said. “He’d had a bit of a roller-coaster junior season and I think there were some really encouraging signs that he could have had a very good senior season.”
Specht also was encouraged by the fact that Ortiz continues to work on his game despite the lost spring season.
“He’s still out there working and he’s gonna be a good player for GCCC,” Specht said.
With only one-half credit remaining to earn his high school diploma, Ortiz is taking five classes in his final semester.
“It won’t be too demanding the rest of the way,” Ortiz said.
Now, Ortiz can focus on the future of his education and golf, and that will keep him home in Garden City where he has signed an NJCAA national letter-of-intent to play for the Broncbusters in the 2020-21 season.
“I made the decision in early February and am excited to be staying home,” Ortiz said. “I love playing at Buffalo Dunes and it’s our home course, too. This has been my course to grow up on and it’s such a beautiful course.
“I work out here part-time and I have learned so much from Mr. (Jason) Hase (head golf professional at Buffalo Dunes),” Ortiz said. “He does so much to help us with our golf game. It will be fun to work with him over the next two years. He’s a great guy and I’m excited to have him coaching me.”