By BRETT MARSHALL
When the final regular season games or matches are usually played, the home team surely wants to end it on a winning note.
With the fact that the Garden City High School Lady Buffaloes volleyball team will be hosting Saturday's Class 6A sub-state tournament, coach Sara Stecki hopes that day will produce a better result than what happened on Tuesday at the GCHS Gymnasium in their triangular with Maize South and Goddard Eisenhower.
Just three days after sweeping to their second straight Western Athletic Conference title, the Lady Buffs stubbed their toes on Senior Night, dropping a straight set to South, 25-17, 25-14 before losing in an agonizing three-set marathon to Eisenhower, 27-29, 26-24, 25-23.
The twin setbacks left the Lady Buffs with an 18-14 record and they now await today's pairings for Saturday's four-team bracket that will determine one of eight sub-state winners who will advance to the Oct. 26-27 state tournament in Topeka.
The double-loss night once again left Stecki with the task of regrouping her team after a sluggish performance.
"It was a tough night, a very off night," Stecki said candidly. "It's such a mental game and the game just wasn't there for us tonight."
The loss to Maize South was the third setback to the Lady Mavericks this season for the Lady Buffs. This time, the first set was close through the middle part as the Lady Buffs were tied at 10 before falling behind 15-11 and then seeing the lead extend to 20-15 and eventually the final eight-point margin.
In the second set, it was no contest. They simply had no answer for Maize's Jody Larson, daughter of head coach Teri, who is bound for Oklahoma.
The Mavericks raced to a 10-0 lead and never looked back, despite the fact the Lady Buffs gathered themselves and played better in the final portion. But it was too little, too late. They were never closer than eight points. The Lady Buffs contributed to three of the Mavericks 25 wins against 12 losses.
Goddard, meanwhile, entered the match with an 11-22 season slate, but looked more like a team that wanted to go home with a win than a loss. After suffering a 25-17, 25-19 setback to their neighbors to the west side of Wichita, the Lady Tigers were every bit of a challenge as Maize South.
In the first set, the teams fought tooth and nail as Garden's early lead of 8-2 disappeared when the Lady Tigers knotted the score at 13. Neither team had more than a two-point advantage the rest of the way and finally, after several terrific points from senior Casey Curran, and kills by Jill Fischer and Jaymie Bernbeck got the Buffs a 28-27 lead. They won the set on a block at the net.
Just when one would think that momentum-building, dramatic win would provide the spark for the Lady Buffs, old Mo just went south.
The Lady Buffs fell behind 5-2 early, eventually knotted the score at 10 and then it was another nail-biter to the end. After leading 24-23 on a dink by Curran, the Lady Buffs dropped the final three points, falling 26-24, and sending the match to a third and deciding set.
"We started playing it safe and we couldn't get our offense set up the right way," Stecki said. "It looked more like we were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. I think the girls knew they should win against Goddard and the frustration got to them."
With one final opportunity to grab a victory, the Lady Buffs jumped out to a 3-0 lead before falling behind at 9-8. In a near replay of the earlier sets, the third one went down to the wire as well. Once again, the Lady Buffs had a lead, the final time at 20-19, but let it slip away as Goddard's Rachel Lee powered her way to two kills along with one by Brynn Minor.
But recovering from a tough tournament, or in this case an early week twin setback, is nothing new for Stecki.
"We've had this before and they have bounced back, and we'll do that again on Saturday," Stecki said. "They're aware of the things they need to work on and we'll get after it starting tomorrow."
In the Maize South match, Curran led the way with seven kills while Bernbeck and Taryn Tempel had four apiece. Jacksenie Tornero had nine assists for the Buffs. In the Goddard match, Curran had 13 kills, Tempel and Mekayla Guerrero had 19 and 17 digs, respectively, while Tornero had 18 assists.
The sub-state tournament will begin at 2 p.m. with two, four-team brackets. Each of those brackets will send one winner to the state tournament.
Teams who will be competing include Dodge City, Haysville-Campus, Hutchinson, Maize High, Wichita North, Wichita Northwest and Wichita South.
Last year, the Lady Buffs reached the sub-state final before being eliminated by Wichita Northwest.