By BRETT MARSHALL
Senior nights to honor high school athletes can always come with mixed emotions and results.
But when Garden City's Montana Fuller pinned Ethan Jay in the second period to capture the 285-pound heavyweight division, it capped off a perfect night for the five Buffs' seniors who made their final appearance at The Garden.
In the process, those five wins helped catapult the Buffs to a commanding 51-19 victory over Class 4A Colby, the state's No. 8-rated team in that classification. The Buffs, meanwhile, solidified their hold on the top spot in the Class 6A rankings in closing out their regular season.
Next up is the all-important Class 6A regional tournament on Feb. 22 at Wichita Northwest. That's where the Buffs will attempt to qualify their individuals for the state tournament, slated for Feb. 28 and March 1 at Hartman Arena in Wichita where the Buffs are the defending champions.
But at least for Thursday night, wrestling was focused on the seniors and the five Buffs made the most of it.
Chris Adler pinned Brady Holzmeister at the 3:36 mark to win at 145 pounds; Matt Marez made a spectacular move in the closing seconds of the second period to pin Connor Edmundson at 170 pounds; Sammy Reyes pinned Brad Slinger at the 1:11 mark to claim the 195-pound bout; Luis Castaneda registered a major decision by a 13-1 score over Colyn Gugelman at 220 pounds and Fuller finished things off with his pin of Jay at the 3:31 mark.
Each of the five seniors said ending their home careers with a team win and individual victories was as good as it gets.
"It feels great to win in front of the home crowd," said Adler, who improved his record to 39-6. "I even saw my mom cry, so that's a special moment to share."
Adler said it was vital for the team to get a big win just before regionals that are nine days away.
"Just everything has gotten better this season, working with the coaches," Adler said. "The offseason we had was a lot more strenuous, and I think we're all physically stronger, quicker and improved our techniques."
Marez, who has been just above .500 in his season record (20-17), said it was special to get a win by pinning his opponent.
"I was looking for a takedown and as soon as he shot on me, I knew I could get him," Marez said. "It was one of the top five matches I've had. We've been working hard, pushing to get better."
Reyes has been among the elite Class 6A 195-pounders this season, and improved his season mark to 34-6 with his pin of Slinger. Currently, he is the No. 4-ranked wrestler in his division.
"Ending my last match in Garden City this way is exciting," Reyes said afterward. "It was a good bout. But I've still got work to do to climb the ladder. My conditioning and technique has improved this year and now it's time to go out and get what's mine. The seniors on this team have worked hard and we try to hold each other accountable. At this point, you make no excuses and you have got to be mentally tough. Our goal is the same — we want to repeat the state championship."
Castaneda also was dominant in his 13-1 major decision over Gugelman. After a 0-0 first period tie, the Buffs' senior took an 8-0 lead, scoring on three different near-fall moves.
"It was good to end this way at home," Castaneda said. "It was pretty exciting and good to go out with a bang."
Castaneda (19-8) has battled freshman Benny Hernandez (22-12) for the varsity spot throughout the season, and that competition has made both wrestlers better, Castaneda said.
"Benny's gonna be a good one next season, but he's certainly made me a better wrestler this year," Castaneda said. "I've improved on top and that's an area where I was weak last year. All the hard work, we hope it pays off now."
Fuller, the transfer from Lakin who was the lone non-qualifier for the 2013 state tournament, said he had unfinished business over the next three weeks when regional and state rolls around.
"Every match counts, and with the last time to wrestle here, it's something to cherish," Fuller said. "I like where I'm at considering that I've only been wrestling now for a few weeks. Conditioning, I could be better, but we're going through the toughest week of that right now, so I expect to be ready for regionals. What happened last year has been a big motivator for me now that I'm back."
For head coach Carlos Prieto, it was mixed reviews, saying he was happy to get the win, but still feels like this team has yet to put up its best performance.
"It was great to see the five seniors go out with a great farewell, goodbye," coach Prieto said. "It was great for the seniors and they've been great guys to coach. This team right now probably isn't as close as the one we had a year ago, but they're getting there. I used some messages from an old friend about leadership stuff. There's no "I in Team" and the "difference between a Champ and a Chump is U." These are lessons we need to take to heart and be thinking more about the team and not about the individual."
Preito said he thought the effort Thursday night was headed in the right direction as they now direct their workouts for the Feb. 22 regional at Wichita Northwest.
Other GCHS winners Thursday were Efrain Sanchez at 106; Michael Prieto at 120; Alec Castillo at 132; Tevin Briscoe at 138 and Zac Finch at 160.
"It's what we've worked for all year," the second-year Buffs' coach said. "We've gotta stay healthy and be ready because we've got a target that people are shooting at."
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.