By BRETT MARSHALL
During a preseason discussion, Garden City High School wrestling coach Carlos Prieto had said that the Buffaloes' incoming freshman class was perhaps as talented a group that had set foot in the workout room in many years.
Tuesday night, Prieto proved to be prophetic about the youth movement as no fewer than five Buffs' rookies earned their way onto the varsity starting roster for Friday and Saturday's season-opening Amarillo, Texas, Randall Duals.
About the only thing that went according to plan was defending state champions Michael Prieto and Tevin Briscoe, who both made short work of their opponents, pinning them in under a minute to barely work up a sweat.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came at 220-pounds, where freshman Benny Hernandez scored two points with just a few seconds left in the third period to edge favored Luis Castaneda, a senior, by a 6-5 decision. Castaneda had led 5-1 early in the third period.
"I told you I thought we'd be young, but quite honestly I wasn't sure we'd be this young," coach Prieto said afterward. "Am I surprised, yes and no. Our freshmen are very athletic, and they proved it on the football field, and now they've come into the wrestling room and are pushing the upperclassmen. They want to be part of this."
The other freshman earning their varsity roster positions were Jesse Nunez, at 152 pounds, when he pinned fellow freshman Chris Gonzales at 5:23; Brandon Derryberry with a 7-3 decision over senior Randal Long; Zeke Herrera at 170 pounds with a 5-3 decision over Matt Marez; and Peyton Hill with an 8-4 decision over junior Ty Hahn.
"We saw things we liked, and we saw a lot of things to work on, especially conditioning," coach Prieto said. "But that will come as the season progresses. I'm excited to see how this group will do."
The younger Prieto and Briscoe spent much of their offseasons attending camps and competing in regional and national freestyle events during the summer. They can't wait to get back out on the mat for the start of what they plan to be a march to a second straight Class 6A state team championship.
The 6A state title in February was the first for the Buffaloes' program since 1999, and the two individual titlists expect to be in the mix again this year, albeit in heavier divisions. Each will move up one weight class — Prieto from 106 to 113 and Briscoe from 132 to 138.
"I spent a lot of time working on getting better on my feet and on the bottom, too," Briscoe said following his 40-4 sophomore season. "I know I need to be a lot more aggressive, and I want to push the pace, and just have a chance to repeat what happened last year. Even though I grew some, I feel quicker."
Briscoe said that he had even considered moving up to 145, but decided 138 was best for the team, and in the long run for himself, too.
"I'll have to work to get to 138, but once I'm there, I know this is the best thing for the team, and that's the most important thing," Briscoe said.
The younger Prieto, who fashioned a 41-2 record in becoming the school's first freshman to win a state championship, also appears to have upped his skill set in the offseason.
"We've been going hard in practice, and I feel like I'm more aggressive on my feet," the younger Prieto said. "I've tried to work on some stuff when I'm on top, and I just want to continue to work on the little things, because they add up to big things. We're excited to finally get going. We went to Amarillo and won last year, and we're looking for the same results this time."
The remainder of the lineup is a mixture of returners and newcomers. That group includes junior Efrain Sanchez at 106 pounds; junior Mark Perez at 113; junior Cris Vividor at 126; sophomore Noe Lugo at 132; senior Chris Adler at 145; senior Sammy Reyes at 195; and sophomore Aaron Lozano at 285 pounds. All posted wins in their respective challenge matches. In one of the tightest matches of the night, Lugo edged sophomore Josh Hinde 3-2.
Note: Following the weekend duals at Randall, the Buffs will open their home schedule on Tuesday with a dual meet against Class 4A Scott City, which enters the season ranked No. 9. Senior Warren Kropp is preseason ranked No. 3 at 170 pounds for the Beavers.