Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of 10 stories counting down the top sports stories of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram staff.
By BRETT MARSHALL
When Jacy Holloway became the head boys' basketball coach at Garden City High School in the spring of 2010, he inherited a program that had been on a gradual downward spiral.
Under previous coach Jeff Tanner, the Buffs' basketball fortunes had its moments of success, with a third-place finish in 2003 in Class 6A, and then another state appearance in 2007.
But Tanner's final two seasons of 2008-09 and 2009-10 saw the program struggle mightily, going 4-16 and 8-13.
Holloway, no stranger to success, began to put together a program that he planned would have a positive and lasting effect on the school.
Three years into the process, Holloway's master plan is working nicely.
The run to the Class 6A state tournament, the first one since that 2007 appearance, capped off a 15-8 won-loss record, and thus earned the Buffs' program the No. 10 sports story for 2013 as voted by The Telegram's staff.
The Buffs earned their trip to Koch Arena in Wichita by virtue of a 40-37 sub-state championship victory over rival Dodge City, a team the Buffs had lost to twice by 15 points each earlier in the season.
But as lady luck would have it, the Buffs got the No. 2 overall seed in the sub-state thanks in part to having one more regular season win than the Red Demons, due to the fact that Liberal had cancelled classes on the final day of the regular season and postponed the game. In an effort to try and reschedule for the next day, Liberal and Dodge City were unable to come to an agreement on a time, and so the Buffs earned the home court for their two sub-state matchups.
And it proved instrumental as they first defeated lowly Wichita South, 56-45, in a struggling effort, before putting the defensive clamps on the Demons to win for one of the few times in recent seasons.
It was that defense that sparked the Buffs' final stretch run that allowed them to overcome, for the first time all season, back-to-back losses. The consistency that Holloway had been preaching finally materialized as the Buffs never lost more than the two straight games (late in season to Hays and Dodge), but also never won more than three consecutive outings.
"We've been focused much better defnsively in the last three games, and that's what we'll have to do against Derby," Holloway said prior to the Buffs departure for the state tournament in March. "It's understanding their personnel and trying to defend everybody, and know where we're supposed to be."
That seemed to work in the state tournament opener against the Panthers, as the Buffs were right in the thick of the contest even into the early fourth quarter. But a run of three-pointers by marksman Taylor Schieber proved to be the Buffs' undoing as they took an early exit from Wichita, 55-46.
But the experience, nonetheless, would prove valuable for the next construction part of the basketball program for Holloway.
"The kids on this team haven't experienced anything like this," Holloway said of going to the state tourney. "They were in grade school when Garden City last went. So, it's a big deal. It's definitely something new and something we have talked about. I want them to enjoy it. It's not a vacation, and we want to be playing Friday."
Seniors Bo Banner, Austin Terpstra, Denton Keller and Evan Riggs provided veteran leadership to the underclassmen and would be part of the reconstruction of the Buffs' program under Holloway. The former Moundridge High School standout has brought a storied career to the bench for the Buffs. He played on four straight Class 2A championships (only he and Wichita Heights' Perry Ellis have that honor), and then starred at Iowa State University for the Cyclones.
Banner, who led the team in scoring, was selected to The Telegram's All-Area Top 5 team, and then was honored with a selection to play in the summer's Kansas Basketball Coaches Association all-star game in Topeka.
The team didn't win a Western Athletic Conference title, finishing just 4-4 behind Dodge City and Hays, but the run at the end of the season brought the spotlight back onto the Buffs' basketball fortunes.