Yaz Vargas misses final season to lead youthful Buffs softball

BUFFS ROUNDUP: Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Note: This is one in a series of profiles of Garden City High School seniors who missed their final year of playing spring sports for the Buffaloes due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

SOFTBALL

There was never a moment that Garden City High School softball coach Trina Moquett didn’t think Yazmin Vargas was going to be a standout player for her Buffaloes team.

She was proven correct in her assessment of Vargas’ abilities when she first became the starting shortstop on a team that would finish third in the Class 6A state tournament for the program’s best performance there.

Then, after three seasons of playing for Moquett, the speedy Vargas had established herself as one of the premier players in GCHS history.

The only missing item will be Vargas’ senior season, which like for so many thousands of high school student-athletes, was wiped out by the cancellation of the 2020 spring year due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March.

Despite missing that fourth campaign, Vargas has left an indelible mark on the Buffs’ softball program.

“I was just so looking forward to the season after we lost all those seniors from last year,” Vargas said recently in a telephone interview. “We had new kids coming into the varsity and I knew we were going to get better this year. I wanted to get to state so bad.”

Vargas said that Moquett had pushed the team extra hard in the two weeks of preseason practice by preaching mental toughness, doing extra lifting for strength and working on hand-eye coordination skills which are so critical in playing the sport, both hitting and fielding.

The standout shortstop and pitcher said she remembers clearly where she was when learning of the spring season’s cancellation.

“I was watching my little brother, and I had put an alert notification on my phone from KSHSAA (Kansas State High School Activities Association), and I saw the Twitter ringer,” she recalled. “I just bawled my eyes out and called my mom. I was so sad at that moment.”

Like so many other seniors, Vargas said the senior season was going to memorable for many reasons.

“As a junior, you see the seniors that you’ve played with and how they approached their final year,” she said. “You have Senior Night, your family is there. It’s something you look forward to since you were a freshman.”

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With more than a month removed from the announcement of no in-school classes and no spring sports, Vargas said she understands all the reasons behind the situation that has rocked not only schools and sports, but the entire American and worldwide economy.

“I know it’s for a good reason, but it took me a really long time to get a handle on my emotions,” she said. “Tomorrow (April 21) would have been our Senior Day. This is all to protect us from COVID-19.”

Vargas’ academic side of adjustment has also been a challenge, taking five classes to meet KSHSAA eligibility requirements.

“It’s been a really big change for me,” Vargas said. “Honestly, in many ways it feels like summer. It’s really hard to process and it’s all a part of your final grade. For me, personally, this has been a lot harder. I’m used to immediate feedback from my teachers with answers to questions. Now, you’re sometimes waiting 30 minutes or more, or even maybe the next day. By then, I may have forgotten the question I had asked!”

Vargas said she is thankful to Coach Moquett for staying in daily communication with her and the rest of the Lady Buffs team members.

“She’s one of my mentors and we’re in a group chat so she’s always checking in with us to see how we’re doing,” Vargas said of Moquett. “We’re all friends on the team, but there are still many questions. Will we get to have a prom or a graduation? We still don’t know.”

Vargas, who signed last November to play softball at Missouri Southern University, said she had been in contact with her future teammate/roommate, who hails from Missouri. They had softball in the fall so were able to finish their senior year. Still, the prom/graduation events for her teammate remain unsettled, too.

“She said her school is talking about July as a possible graduation time,” Vargas indicated.

In addition to being in a leadership role as a senior with the Lady Buffs, Vargas was also chasing several school records, which will now remain a distant memory.

“It’s like a missing chapter in a book,” Vargas lamented. “I didn’t get that opportunity and it’s just something that I have to accept and move on to the next chapter of my life.”

Indeed, what Vargas had accomplished in three seasons was impressive.

She held season records in hits (44), batting average (.579), triples (10) and runs scored (44). Those first three marks came in her sophomore season when the team just missed a return trip to the Class 6A state tournament. The runs scored mark came in her freshman rookie season when the Buffs did reach the state and placed third, the highest finish in school history.

She earned Player of the Year honors from The Garden City Telegram and was named second team all-state by the Kansas Softball Coaches Association in that breakout sophomore campaign. Vargas also holds career marks in runs scored (105), breaking the old mark of 102 set by Kennedy Brunson in four seasons. In addition, her 17 career triples is a school record.

Vargas completed her abbreviated career with 109 hits, just 17 behind all-time leader Abbie Dart and also was within 15 stolen bases of career leader Jill Duesing. Her .509 career batting average also established a new record for the program.

While most of her marks came from hitting and also playing shortstop, Vargas was a solid pitcher for the Lady Buffs and would likely have been the No. 1 starter for Moquett this season. In her brief time on the mound, Vargas went 9-3 over two seasons with an earned-run-average of 2.96.

Clearly, the lost senior season would have been that final opportunity to achieve both team and individual goals.

“I really wanted to see if we could get back to state because that was such a special experience my freshman season,” Vargas said. “They do senior posters and it makes so many memories. That freshman year was so much fun. We had worked harder to get back and the bond that I had with the girls I’m so grateful for as well as the bond with the coaches.”

Moquett said that she was excited to see Vargas grow into the team’s emotional leader this season.

“She has a natural confidence that you can see and feel on the field,” Moquett said. “She walks the talk on the field and it is inspiring to her teammates. Her enthusiasm she brought to the field every day was infectious. The younger girls coming into the program would have benefited from being around her and her leadership.”

Moquett said Vargas was likely the fastest player she had coached, noting her 54 stolen bases in 59 attempts as well as her 17 triples and 17 doubles, reflective of her speed and base-running skills.

“She’s a natural athlete,” Moquett said of Vargas. “Pound for pound, she’s one of the strongest girls in the weight room. When she’s playing shortstop, her ball transfer from field to throw is highly efficient.”

Vargas, who plans to major in radiology once she heads on to Missouri Southern, said she will always remember  her final day of being in the GCHS school building just before spring break.

“It was a cold day, freezing cold, and we got our equipment out to go to the (YMCA) dome,” Vargas recalled. “We practiced with a little hitting and pitching. The next Tuesday was when they canceled school and then the spring sports. Who knew then?”

What will her legacy be for those Lady Buffs who follow in her shadow?

“I hope they remember how much I enjoyed playing the game,” she said. “I was looking forward to being the leader this season. I think I’ve been blessed with natural physical skills, but I’ve worked very hard to get to this level. I’d improved in so many different ways.”

Perhaps there will be an asterisk beside her name in the GCHS softball record books. One that indicates her impressive marks came in just three seasons while helping her team to a 48-16 record in those three seasons.

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