BUFFS ROUNDUP: Friday, April 17, 2020
Sometimes things just have a way of working out.
Sometimes the stars simply align themselves properly without any explanation.
How else would you analyze the recent announcement of four starters off the 2019 Garden City High School volleyball team signing NJCAA letters-of-intent to play next season at Garden City Community College?
After all, 2019 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year Remi Vargas at one point was uncertain about whether or not she might even play at the next level. Then, 2018 WAC Player of the Year Reagan Karlin, and a three-time Class 6A first-team all-state selection had signed an NCAA letter in November with Division I powerhouse Creighton University.
But as time and circumstances evolved, those two, along with Lady Buffs’ teammates Kelbi Richter and Alli Meng, are now ready to continue as teammates with Coach Patrick Hiltz at GCCC.
The girls’ high school coach, Trista Bailey, said that while it is not unusual for so many players from one team to move on to play at the next level, it would be a rarity for them to all select the same college.
“I’m excited for them to play at the college level and that they get that opportunity together,” Bailey said. “It’s a little like a dream come true.”
While a few GCHS volleyball players have gone on to play at the local college, it has not been a regular occurrence, with the college program going through a series of coaching turnovers in the past decade.
When Hiltz arrived in Garden City in March of 2019 to begin his first recruiting efforts, he had a simple goal – get in front of as many local, area and Kansas coaches to get acquainted with players from the Sunflower State.
Apparently, his efforts are beginning to reap big rewards.
“When I was coaching at Coldwater (prior to coming to Garden City High School), my assistant had played for Coach Hiltz at Nicholls State University (Thibodaux, La.),” Bailey noted. “She had really good things to say about him. He’s well rounded with his background – college, men and women, beach, so you know you’ve got somebody with a wealth of experience and knowledge.”
Bailey said she was impressed with his proactive approach to showing interest in the local program.
“He was in our gym that first summer and came to our one-day skills camp to observe,” she recalled. “He came to our Summer Slam tournament to watch as many players as possible. He asked about teams and it was a way to be introduced to area coaches and he was visible to them. That’s very important in our area of the world.”
In the “Quartet” of players, Hiltz will be getting a pair of outside hitters in Karlin and Meng.
Karlin, a 6-foot-1-inch power hitter had finished her four-year prep career with the Lady Buffs with 1,347 kills. Showing her all-around skills, too, she finished with 782 career digs.
Meng, a 5-foot-10-inch all-around athlete, brings a different set of skills to the Lady Busters and will add depth to the team, Hiltz has said. She had played three seasons at Holcomb High School before transferring to GCHS for her final year of eligibility. She was a two-time Great West Activities Conference first-team selection and finished her career with 785 kills, 441 digs and 109 blocks.
Vargas, 5-foot-4, was the team’s principal setter, recording 2,640 career assists, including an impressive 856 of the team’s 896 assists in her senior season. She also was the team’s top server at 98.7 percent while adding in 729 digs. She was a three-year starter and selected to the All-WAC first team all three seasons.
Richter, 5-foot-6, was the team’s Libero, and was solid in all areas of her play, Bailey said. From her varied positions, she was tough on the defensive side and recorded more than 1,000 digs in her three-year career as a starter for the Buffs.
“This has been a special group and I felt that way three years ago when I became the coach here,” Bailey said of the group. “They are all so unique in their talents. It helps Coach Hiltz fill his team’s positions. I can imagine how he feels. They are all so diverse and so skilled.”
Karlin even indicated that she began thinking more about staying home when she saw that many of her life-long teammates were going to play at GCCC next season.
“I thought it would be really good to stay and work on things to be better prepared for the next level,” Karlin said recently. “I think since we’ve got four of our local players on the roster that it will be really cool to represent southwest Kansas.”
Karlin reinforced Bailey’s opinion of Hiltz in explaining some of her decision-making process to play for the Busters next season.
“He knows so much about the game,” Karlin said. “He will get us where we want to be and he will help us find out what are plans are for playing at that next level above.”
Bailey said that one of the advantages of so many players from the same team moving on to remain teammates is their familiarity with each other – both on and off the court.
“They’ve definitely had a lot of success,” Bailey said of the 2019 season which saw the Buffs go 33-5, recording the third most wins in school history. “Their competitiveness is at such a high level. They push each other all the time. They have a special language of talking to each other. There’s just that level of growing and maturing and that’s pretty special.”
Of the four Lady Buffs, Richter was the first to sign with the Busters on Nov. 19, 2019, just a few weeks after finishing her high school career at the 6A state tournament in Salina. Vargas would pen her name to the letter on Jan. 17 and Meng followed on Feb. 13. Then, after much reflection and introspection, it was Karlin who signed her letter with the Busters on March 23.
For Hiltz, it was like sitting at a poker table and drawing a high hand – while they’re not exactly 4 of a kind, it’s pretty close to the winning hand for the second-year Buster coach.
“They all play differently, but the thing I can say is that Coach Bailey has done a great job in teaching and coaching them to play at a high level,” Hiltz said. “We’re excited to have them here and I think it will be a big drawing card to our home matches.”
The “Quality Quartet” is now complete. All that remains is to see what materializes in the fall, if and when, colleges return to campuses after the COVID-19 outbreak turned the world upside down.