Editor's Note:This is the ninth in a series of 10 stories counting down the top sports stories of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram.
By BRETT MARSHALL
Sometimes, storybook endings are just meant to feel good.
That may well best describe the 2012-13 season for the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team.
With a new coach — Carlos Prieto — and a cast of experienced wrestlers, as well as promising newcomers, the Buffs marched their way to Hartman Arena in late February and brought home the first Class 6A state team trophy since 1999.
That accomplishment is The Telegram's No. 2 sports story for 2013 as voted by The Telegram staff.
It had been a long drought for the once mighty Buffs' program, which had captured multiple state titles in the 1990s under legendary coach Rocky Welton.
So in 2012-13, the Buffs not only won the state title, the program's eighth, regaining that legacy, but they ran away from the field.
Most experts had expected Junction City, Manhattan and Derby to be among the chief challengers to the Buffs, who had been ranked No. 1 all season.
But by the end of the first day, the Buffs had amassed 143 points, which would be more than enough as they eventually finished with 173.5 points to easily outdistance runner-up Junction City's 125.5.
"They wrestled for each other, and they just left everything out on the mat," said a jubilant coach Prieto. "I knew we were peaking, and we happened to hit it at the right time."
It was even sweeter for the new coach as he got to watch his freshman son, Michael Prieto, become the first GCHS rookie to win a state individual crown, this one at 106 pounds.
The younger Prieto was the first of five Buffs to reach the finals. After a heart-stopping 4-2 semifinal win over Landon Wood of Maize, Prieto seemed to pick up the momentum as he dominated Doug Newcomb of Olathe Northwest, 7-0, in the title match.
"It's been somewhat of a fairytale season," coach Prieto said. "My son winning as a freshman — and the team winning. It's been an amazing run."
Sophomore Tevin Briscoe was the other individual champion, claiming the 132-pound division with a 13-3 rout of Dylan Beckner of Wichita Northwest in the finals.
"He's one of the most talented wrestlers we've got, and certainly as talented as anybody in the state," coach Prieto said of Briscoe.
AJ Hurtado, who had won a title in 2012, reached the finals but lost to Dodge City rival Dane Edwards in the finals. Unknown at the time, Hurtado had been nursing an injury and was far from full speed as he had been earlier in the year when he beat Edwards.
Also coming up short in the finals were seniors Trevor Kennedy at 145 pounds and Anthony Gardner at 170 pounds, but those upper classmen provided much-needed leadership during the season.
The depth of the Buffaloes was never more evident as they took all but one of their weight class performers to the state tourney. Of those, seven won quarterfinal matches. Five of those then went on to make the title matches.
The younger Prieto had a glittering 41-2 record, while Briscoe was 40-4. Junior Sammy Reyes placed third at 195 pounds; freshman Alec Castillo was fourth at 126 pounds; and Junior Chris Adler garnered a fifth at 152 pounds, giving the Buffs eight medalists.
All season, the Buffs' coaches and wrestlers themselves had talked about the desire to bring home a team title. And this group accomplished the goal in spades.
"You couldn't have asked any more from the boys," coach Prieto said. "You listen to all of them, and all they're talking about is the team, and doing what they can for their teammates. All the credit goes to the boys and to my assistants. I have the best staff in Kansas."