By BRETT MARSHALL
WICHITA — Perhaps the reason the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team had faith it would rally from an early deficit at the two-day Class 6A state wrestling tournament was best summed up with the motto imprinted on the back of their brown T-shirts — Refuse 2 Lose.
But no matter how you look at it, the Buffaloes had faith and that motto served them well on Saturday as they won close match after close match, both in the consolation bracket and the championship side, and the end result was an 18-point victory over the Derby Panthers at Hartman Arena to claim their second consecutive team title and ninth overall in school history.
The Buffs had trailed most of Friday's first day until late, when seniors Sammy Reyes and Montana Fuller won their semifinal matches with pins, gaining the all-important bonus points. That provided them with a six point lead over Derby at the end of day one.
But with that Friday night momentum carrying over, the Buffs went on to win the championship trophy 153.5 to Derby's 135.5. It wasn't as decisive as the 2013 title when they scored 173.5 points, but this one was still sweet to savor.
The Buffs did it with eight medalists — two individual titlists, two runners-up, one third, a pair of fourths and a fifth-place finisher.
From top to bottom, 106 to 285 pounds, the Buffs performed well.
Sophomore Michael Prieto and junior Tevin Briscoe joined an elite list of GCHS wrestlers as they each won their second consecutive state title. Prieto dominated Jacob Bonham of Gardner-Edgerton by a 12-2 major decision at 113 pounds while Briscoe squeaked out a 4-3 decision over Garrett Xanders of Derby in a match that put the Buffs over the top in team points to clinch the crown.
"This year feels a little different because I was able to get the bonus points and that made it special," said Prieto, who improved his season record to 44-2 and his two-year mark to 85-4. "After every round we look to see if we need bonus points for the teams, so it was nice to help that out. As much as the individual win means to me, personally, the team championship is the ultimate."
Briscoe, took, basked in the knowledge that his win was the team clincher, and also enabled him to conclude a season which saw him battle injuries in January and come back to finish with a 33-3 record.
"I think he (Xanders) knew I was a big-time thrower and he wrestled on his knees, which made it difficult for me to get to him for a tilt," Briscoe said. "I just tried to keep my cool, keep getting my attacks in and wrestle smart. The win feels amazing, and the team win is even more so. With Efrain (Sanchez, 3rd at 106) and Michael getting us started on the team side today, we just had a lot of momentum."
For Reyes (39-7) and Fuller (14-3), the championship bout setbacks were bittersweet. Reyes had improved his technique dramatically over the last month, so much so that Pesek was hard-pressed to avoid a takedown, but he did.
"I thought I wrestled about as good as I could," a heartbroken Reyes said. "I left everything out there. He's more of a defensive wrestler and I just couldn't capitalize on any mistakes. I had a couple of chances, and when you do, you've gotta drive through. I should've finished it off, but I couldn't trip him. Getting the second team championship takes a little of the disappointment out for sure. We all worked very hard for this and I couldn't be prouder of my teammates. We have great coaches."
For Fuller, the near-miss brought an end to a senior year that also was rocked by injuries early. He missed nearly seven weeks of the season and didn't come back until late January. Working his way into tournament shape, he got better and better, getting two pins and a 4-0 shutout on Friday. Lawrence's Jones, though, was just slightly better.
"The match was going good, I was doing what I needed," said Fuller who was tied at 1-1 with 21 seconds left. "Somehow we got tied up and I just put my head too close and he got me turned. It would have been really nice to win this one, but holding up the team trophy takes some of the sting out. It's nice to know that all the hard work paid off."
The Buffs might have even won by a wider margin had 145-pound senior Chris Adler, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in his division, not suffered a broken bone in his left hand during his consolation semifinal loss on Saturday.
And for head coach Carlos Prieto, the repeat championship felt just as good as the one did a year ago, when the Buffs claimed the title for the first time since 1999. And that came in Prieto's first year as head coach. Now he's two for two, and can't wait to pursue No. 3.
"There is no difference in how they feel," coach Prieto said. "This still is very special. We had some different kids, and we had some different placers, but this never gets old. We went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the state. We had a lot of adversity (injuries to three starters during the season), but these kids believed in themselves."
Coach Prieto said he had been asked how he felt about the title chase when the point standings were close on Friday, and he had the confident answer that has become a trademark for how the Buffs wrestle on the mat.
"I told them that I believed the boys would wrestle well on Saturday, and we wrestled extremely well," coach Prieto said. "I'm proud of this accomplishment for the team, for the school and for the community."
And just as it had been the year before when he sat in the chair on the mat, coaching his son, Michael, to a state championship, he was there again to watch Michael claim title No. 2.
"When it's your son, even though you're the coach, you get so nervous. He had wrestled the kid before, and I thought Michael persevered through the early part and I'm so proud of him as a dad and a coach. At the same time, I'm proud of all these kids. They are all like family."
Buffs' wrestling notes: As noted, the team championship was the ninth for the Buffs. Their previous state team titles came in 1971, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998, 1999 and 2013. Six of those in the 1990s came under the legendary Rocky Welton.
With their repeat state championships, Michael Prieto and Briscoe joined an elite group of Buffs' wrestlers as two-time champions. There had been just three prior to Saturday, and the group included Jon Bigler in 1978-79, Rob Mouser in 1996-97 and Jason Nichols in 2000-01. They will have the opportunity to put themselves into a new upper echelon when they go after state title No. 3 next year.
Of the eight medalists for the Buffs, only Reyes and Fuller graduate. Adler, who finished 43-8, also graduates. Three other non-medalists — Thomas Marquez (126, soph.), Herrera (182, freshman) and Hernandez (220, freshman) also return, along with the injured Peyton Hill, who was the regular 182-pounder before a finger injury sidelined him for the season in early January.