On the line
By BRETT MARSHALL
Mention the fact that the Garden City High School wrestling team has been ranked No. 1 all season by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association, and Buffaloes' head coach Carlos Prieto will saw it is meaningless.
Mention to Prieto, nearing the end of his first year at the helm of the GCHS program, that the Buffs went unbeaten in winning their first Western Athletic Conference title in five years and he will tell you that it really doesn't matter.
If you then remind Prieto that he has nine of his 14 varsity wrestlers individually ranked in Class 6A, he'll simply smile and say he's got a lot of good wrestlers who have done some nice things so far this season.
But, in spite of all those facts, Prieto simply says they don't matter.
That's his approach as the Buffs prepare to head to Hutchinson for Saturday's Class 6A regional qualifying tournament. The one-day event, which will determine how many Buffs move on to the 6A state tournament on Feb. 22 and 23 in Wichita, is what is uppermost in Prieto's thinking.
"Our regional is loaded and our boys will have to wrestle well to qualify for state, but that's what our goal is and what our expectations are," Prieto said earlier this week. "There are kids who will wrestle on Saturday who could probably place at state, but might not qualify out of regional."
Prieto, as did his predecessor Monte Moser, set the expectation bar high for Saturday's regional, where the top four finishers earn their tickets to the state tournament at Hartman Arena.
"Always, our goal is to qualify 14 (all 14 weight divisions)," Prieto said. "I still think we can if all the boys wrestle the way they are capable. I might be a little crazy, but to have a shot at the state, we've got to get as many to Wichita as possible."
Despite the fact that nine Buffs are currently ranked in the top six of their respective weight classes, there are 32 wrestlers who will be competing in Hutchinson that also are ranked in their weight classes.
The eight-team field includes host Hutchinson, but also includes No. 3-ranked Derby and No. 6-ranked Wichita Northwest. In addition, the field includes Dodge City, Maize, Wichita Haysville-Campus and Wichita South.
To earn a spot into the state tourney, a wrestler must win at least two matches, and while that sounds easy, the route to the top four is splattered with other top wrestlers. In each of the 14 weight classes, there are at least two or more ranked competitors in 12 of those divisions. Only at 145 and 195 pounds is there just one ranked wrestler and those belong to the Buffs.
Heading the list of Buffs will be freshman Michael Prieto at 106 pounds, who has compiled a 34-2 record and is ranked No. 1 in his weight class. Sophomore Tevin Briscoe is the other top-ranked Buff wrestler, owning the top spot at 132 pounds and sporting a 34-4 record. Senior AJ Hurtado, who won the 132-pound 6A state title a year ago, is ranked No. 2 (25-7) behind Dodge City's Dane Edwards, who defeated Hurtado in a Western Athletic Conference dual earlier in the season.
"We can take the easy road or hard road, and the key is winning your first match," Prieto said. "Winning that first one takes some pressure off. But our kids, they've been through a tough schedule and that's what we wanted them to experience. It's been a tough road throughout the season, and they've done well.
"In some respects, several of those tournaments are tougher than what we'll see overall on Saturday. But none of those are as important as what we do on Saturday."
The success at state is dependant upon how the Buffs fare on Saturday, it's as simple as that, Prieto said.
"I think the boys are well prepared for this, and we're excited to go and see how they perform," Prieto said.
The Buffs have held out several of their wrestlers from late-season dual matches in order to get as healthy as possible, and Prieto said that the team will be as healthy as it has been since the beginning of the season in early December.
"We're about as healthy for regionals as we've been in some years," Prieto said. "We've got some issues here and there. You're always a little worried. We've got a few leaks, and you just try to prevent the floodwaters.
"I expect the boys to wrestle extremely well and take a large number of kids to the state tournament. That's been our goal all year long, and I expect they'll perform to our expectations."
In addition to Michael Prieto, Briscoe, and Hurtado, the Buffs line up will consist of Efrain Sanchez at 113 pounds (15-13); Matt Urrutia at 120 pounds (13-4); Alec Castillo at 126 pounds (21-16); Trevor Kennedy at 145 pounds (28-11); Chris Adler at 152 pounds (26-11); Zac Finch at 160 pounds (23-11); Anthony Gardner at 170 pounds (23-9); Juan Carlos Rodriguez at 182 pounds (13-13); Sammy Reyes at 195 pounds (26-10); Samson Aldaco at 220 pounds (14-14) and Montana Fuller at 285 pounds (13-7).
Area high schools in Classes 4A and 3-2-1A begin their regional qualifying tournaments on Friday at various sites.
Hugoton and Ulysses head to Augusta for the Class 4A regional, where the Eagles will be led by state-ranked wrestlers Patrick Weaver (145 pounds) and Lawson Fiss (152 pounds), while the Tigers have state-ranked Armando Sandoval (182 pounds).
In Class 3-2-1A, Cimarron, Holcomb, South Gray, Ingalls, Lakin and Sublette will be battling it out at Garden Plain while Scott City, Wichita County and Greeley County head north to the Norton regional.
The Class 3-2-1A state tournament will be held Feb. 22 and 23 at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays while Class 4A is conducted on the same dates at the Salina Bicentennial Center.
Among the top wrestlers from the area are Holcomb's Keegan Amos (132 pounds), while Scott City has state-ranked wrestlers in James Jurgens (120 pounds), Alex Kough (126 pounds), Warren Kropp (160 pounds) and Michael McEachern (285). McEachern recently signed a football letter-of-intent to play at Garden City Community College next fall.