By KEVIN THOMPSON
The Lady Buffaloes tennis team found playing host to the regional tournament on Saturday much to their liking.
Not only did they place second as a team with 13 points behind Maize's 20, but the Garden City High School site produced two local entries to the 6A tournament in Maize this Friday.
Senior Jeanette Martinez finished fourth in the singles bracket to earn her second trip to state.
But the biggest treat for coach Rod Robinson came from his top doubles team of Shai Cartmill and Claire Schmidt.
The second-seeded duo, now 29-8 this season, crushed their competition, including a surprisingly easy 6-3, 6-2 win over the top seed as they lay claim as regional champions in front of a home crowd.
"I am completely, completely surprised," Robinson said of his champions. "I knew they'd contend. I knew they would get at least second or third, but I never thought they would play this well. They played their best match of all season (in the finals)."
Robinson said the duo poached at the net well, placed their shots in the right spots and controlled the match from start to finish.
"They know each other really well and knew where each other was going to be all the time," he said. "I couldn't have asked for a better match. Every time I went to talk to them, I never had any advice other than to keep doing what they were doing."
Schmidt and Cartmill ripped off five straight games off Tiffany Holman and Kate Utech of Maize, including three service breaks before taking the first set.
In fact, Cartmill was serving 40-love in the sixth game before the Maize team came back to break her, one of the few blemishes for Garden City in that match.
But she atoned for that in the ninth game with a down-the-line winner to clinch the opening set.
The Buffaloes broke Maize three more times in the decisive set with Cartmill hitting a volley winner on match point.
For the junior Schmidt, this will be her third straight trip to state, having gone last year in singles and in 2011 in doubles.
"This is definitely the best, the most fun of the three," she said. "We all knew what was going on and what was at stake."
For sophomore Cartmill, playing in just her ninth tournament, it was just a thrill to qualify, let alone take a title. The former volleyball player just picked up a racket last November.
But she fed off of Schmidt's experience and confidence, which allowed both to play their game and not get anxious.
"If we get nervous, we start to play their game," she said. "So we didn't let that happen."
Their goal, she added, was to place in the top three because it means a better seed at state, but after watching their opponents play earlier, they knew they had a chance for a title.
For the veteran Schmidt, returning to state feels good because it means another goal met, but she also knows it isn't over.
Their goal, she said, is to win their first match and take it from there.
Robinson calls Schmidt the most positive, most consistent player on the team, and she taught Cartmill a lot about being match tough.
"They were nervous this morning, but when they won the match to get to state, they relaxed and started having fun," he said. "I'm really impressed with the way they worked together and made a solid doubles team."
"It's unusual to have a girl go one year in doubles and the next in singles," he said. "She worked hard all summer and in the off-season."
Martinez (25-14) opened her day with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Sarah Raugewitz of Dodge City and a comeback win over Sarah Perez of Haysville-Campus 7-5, 6-1 before losing in the semifinals to Olivia Medaris of Maize 6-1, 6-0.
Against Perez, she was down 5-2 before taking five straight games to claim the opening set and dominate the second.
The leg cramps came in her final match, which she dropped 6-2, 6-1 to Sarah Rose of Haysville-Campus.
Martinez likes her chances at state, but she admits she'll have to play more confidently, and part of that will depend on recovering from her foot soreness incurred during her final match.
Playing at state a year ago taught her how to prepare for this next go-around, she said.
Robinson said Martinez always wanted to play singles but he always kept her in doubles because of issues with her knees. But his senior overcame all that to play well at the top spot.
"I'm really proud of the way she fought today," he added. "She gave it her all out there."
Garden City's other doubles team of Allison Doll and Tania Carmona-Pastrana, seeded eighth, won their first match 10-8 in a super tiebreaker, then lost 6-1, 6-0 in the quarterfinals and 6-0, 6-1 in a consolation match.
Andrea Villela, who finished her high school career Saturday, won her first round but dropped her last two.
The state meet will begin Friday at 11:30 at Maize South High School.