By BRETT MARSHALL
Every high school wrestling coach wishes to have all 14 members of the team he takes to the regional tournament each year will qualify for the following week's state tournament.
And Carlos Prieto, the head coach of the defending Class 6A state champion Garden City Buffaloes is no different.
So when the Buffs headed home on Saturday night from their regional tourney at Wichita Northwest, with the team championship plaque in hand and 12 individual qualifiers, the second-year Buffs' mentor was happy, but subdued.
The Buffs finished with 189.5 points while Wichita Northwest was a distant second at 160 points. Maize, Hutchinson and Dodge City were well back with 118.5, 117 and 116.5 points, respectively.
"As a coach you want all 14 of them to qualify, because last year we were one short, this year we were two short, and you never feel good about leaving any kids behind," Prieto said on Sunday. "At the same time, 12 of the kids made it, and I like where we're at heading to the state tournament."
That next, and most important, event begins at 10 a.m. Friday at Hartman Arena in Wichita, site of the Buffs' 2013 state title, the first earned by the program since 1999.
"I thought we wrestled well, the kids fought hard, showed a lot of heart," Prieto said. "We were better as a team, and I think we'll be even better next week. I liked the progress we made."
Five of the 12 qualifiers came away with titles in their respective weight classes — Efrain Sanchez at 106 pounds; Michael Prieto, the coach's son, at 113 pounds; Tevin Briscoe at 138 pounds; Chris Adler at 145 pounds; and Sammy Reyes at 195 pounds.
Two others placed second — Jesse Nunez at 152 pounds and Zac Finch at 160 pounds. Zeke Herrera (182) and Montana Fuller (285) garnered thirds while Thomas Marquez (126), Alec Castillo (132) and Benny Hernandez (220) placed fourth to earn the final state qualifying spots.
"I've said all along that to be successful, you've got to wrestle above your seed in the tournament, and we had some kids who did that," coach Prieto said. "Thomas Marquez (7-16 record) is a great example. He was seeded eighth of eight kids, and got a fourth place. He came back and won enough (matches) to qualify. After he won, I thought this is why I coach. I got chills, it was such a neat feeling to see him succeed. He got behind in a couple of matches, but kept his composure. Sometimes you dig deep and find it within yourself and just refuse to lose."
Coach Prieto also said that Briscoe (29-3) had a tough bracket at the 138 pound division, but that he dominated, earning his title with a 20-5 technical fall victory over Tylor Garcia of Dodge City at the 4:46 mark. Sanchez claimed the 106-pound class with a 10-6 decision over Easton Schroeder of Haysville-Campus while Michael Prieto (40-2) captured a major decision over Greg Bentley of Campus with an 11-2 win.
Briscoe and Prieto are defending state champions, but are in different weight classes than in 2013. Prieto won his at 106 pounds while Briscoe garnered gold at 132 pounds.
"Tevin had a tough road, but he dominated his opponents," Prieto said of his junior, who was voted co-MVP wrestler of the tournament.
Adler continued to be impressive in his senior season, earning a 5-2 decision over Wichita Northwest's Dylan Beckner and now owns a 41-6 season record. Reyes also was dominant, winning with one pin and then a technical fall (16-1, 3:42) triumph over Kyle Jackson of Wichita Northwest.
Nunez (29-13) and Finch (11-4) lost their title matches to the No. 1 seeds in their weight division. Nunez lost to Brett Moon (39-2) of Maize, 8-3, while Finch narrowly lost a 6-4 decision to Saul Ortiz (30-4) of Wichita Northwest.
Another surprise qualifier came at 182 pounds, where Zeke Herrera placed third, subbing in for the injured Peyton Hill. Herrera (5-3) lost his opening match, but came back to win two matches to qualify and then got a third with a medical forfeit over Casey Nance of Maize. Fuller, a senior, punched his ticket to the state for the first time by placing third and going 3-1 in one of the toughest weight classes.
Fuller lost in the semis to Wichita North's Caleb Franklin (32-2) by a 1-0 count, then beat Dodge City's Brennan Tate (6-0) before winning a slim 3-2 decision over Tyler Bastian of Campus. It was a sweet win as Bastian eliminated Fuller from qualifying for state a year ago.
"I like our chances, and if the kids wrestle well, we'll be in the hunt and we'll have a good weekend," coach Prieto said in looking ahead to the two-day state tournament. "We've got a target on our backs, but I fully expect our kids to go there and do a great job of wrestling. The results will take care of themselves."
Results in Scoreboad, Page B2.