By BRETT MARSHALL
If there was ever a Garden City High School team that had high expectations heading to a state tournament, it would be the 2012 edition of the Lady Buffs' bowling team.
Fresh from a runner-up finish at the Class 6A regional in Wichita, ending just 14 pins behind team champ Wichita East, the Lady Buffs were scheduled to hit the Northrock Lanes in Wichita today at 2 p.m. in pursuit of their first state championship.
Before the girls took to the lanes, however, the Buffs' lone boy to qualifier — junior Kieran Henderson — was to begin his quest at 9:30 a.m.
The expectation is two-fold — the team returns four of the six bowlers who placed third at the 2011 state tournament on the same lanes. Second, that group is headed by senior Rikkie Hemmert, last year's individual 6A state runner-up.
But Hemmert has plenty of support in fellow seniors Sarah Ramsey, Carey Watters and Jennifer St. Clair, along with junior Vicky Newell and freshman Alexa Hemmert, Rikkie's younger sister. Ramsey, Watters and Newell all were members of that third-place team.
"Last year, we were just happy to go and have a chance to compete," said GCHS coach Kip Nichols. "This year, we're here with a purpose. We're going to go after the state championship. When these girls are focused and bowling well, they're as good as any team in the state."
Newell's status was uncertain following Saturday's regional when she hyperextended a finger on her bowling hand. Medical treatment and evaluation, however, has provided enough healing that Newell was good to go and practiced on Wednesday when the team arrived in Wichita.
"She rolled a 214 in her second practice game and that's a big confidence builder," Nichols said. "It will be exciting to see how the kids perform. We're one of the most capable teams in the tournament and I expect us to have a good day."
For Henderson, it will be his first time to compete in the state tournament.
"He had a good day for practice and he told us that he would have loved to have his teammates here to bowl, but since they're not, he's going to bowl for them," Nichols said. "He's a quality young man and I think he has a chance to do well."
Longhorn qualifier: Holcomb's Corey Roth qualified on Saturday for the Longhorns and will compete Friday in the boys' Class 5-1A state tournament at Northrock Lanes in Wichita.
Roth, the lone qualifier for coach Lindall Cox's team, rolled a three-game series of 625 at Great Bend to finish just one pin behind individual champ Austin Gronau of Newton.
The boys will compete at 9:30 a.m. on Friday.