By BRETT MARSHALL
PARK CITY — The Garden City Buffaloes arrived two days early for the Class 6A state wrestling tournament at Hartman Arena, and after 48 hours of waiting, the Stormin' Buffs took on the first day of the championship.
And just what you might hope the No. 1-ranked Buffs would do, they put the early stampede on the rest of the field.
In the team race, the Buffs put themselves in strong position by taking a commanding 18.5 point lead after day one.
The Buffs finished the day with 80.5 points, while Junction City was in second with 61.5. Defending champion Manhattan was third with 59, while Derby and Wichita Northwest rounded out the top five with 51.5 points each.
Seven Buffs advanced to today's 9 a.m. semifinals in the reshuffled schedule that was caused by Winter Storm Q, which dumped approximately 6 to 8 inches of snow in Garden City, but pummeled the Wichita area with nearly a foot.
"We've got seven in the semis, which means we've got a chance to have seven in the finals," GCHS coach Carlos Prieto said. "You're never satisfied, but I'm ecstatic with the way the boys wrestled today. I thought we might have a couple more in there, but you just never know."
There were the several Buffs who made it who were expected to be in the semifinals.
Michael Prieto at 106 pounds, Tevin Briscoe at 132 pounds, defending state champion AJ Hurtado at 138 pounds.
Throw in a solid day's performances by senior Anthony Gardner at 170 pounds and junior Sammy Reyes at 195 pounds, and it would have been a good day.
But when freshman Alec Castillo eked out a 10-9 decision over Marcus Reece of Topeka, and Trevor Kennedy squeaked past Davis Matthews of Manhattan, 1-0, in his quarterfinal match at 145 pounds, it was pure dessert for the Buffs.
"I don't think I could be happier at the moment," an elated Kennedy said afterward. "There's a lot more to get, but I didn't want to let the team down. I was exhausted and I just fed off what Alec and the others were doing. Somehow the Trevor that I like showed up."
The Buffs had started out the day by winning nine of their 13 opening-round matches, and that seemed to set the table for the big meal awaiting the Buffs at the end of today, when they hope to bring back the 6A state team championship for the first time since 1999.
"It's our No. 1 goal to prove to people that we've got the best team in the state," said Reyes, who was impressive in his two victories (a pin of Matt Loy of Olathe South and a 13-2 major decision over Ed Linquist of Topeka-Washburn Rural). "I'll rate today as an 'eight' for me. The wrestlers are tough. I've been working on a lot of moves to try and score points, and then score more points. I've really pushed myself to get here."
Gardner was especially impressive, pinning both of his opponents — first Tommy Dettenwanger of Shawnee Mission East just 46 seconds into the match, and then another pin of Michael Forshee of Manhattan with one second left in the first period.
"It's a much better feeling than losing in the quarterfinals," said Gardner of his 2012 performance when he placed fifth. "Just knowing that I'm placing takes pressure off. I can go out and just wrestle. I just tried to stay collected and focus myself."
Gardner will have a rematch with Alan Clothier of Lawrence after the two met in mid-December in a dual meet at Lawrence, where Clothier won a tough 5-3 decision.
"I've been looking forward to the opportunity ever since I saw the bracket," Gardner said. "I'm a better wrestler now than I was then. Our team is wrestling better. It's pretty exciting stuff."
Briscoe's performance is another march in his redemption from missing weight a year ago at regionals, causing him to not be able to compete at state. His two wins improved his season record to 38-4 after he pinned Chuck McBride of Blue Valley Northwest (3:54) and then did the same to Tanner Griffin of Shawnee Mission West at the 5:14 mark.
"I don't relax at any time in my matches," said Briscoe, who had accumulated points to dominate the early parts of both matches. "I never get too comfortable. Just trying to get extra team points. I'm excited for tomorrow (today). I can't wait."
It was much the same for the younger Prieto, the coach's son, who has had a marvelous freshman campaign and now sports a 39-2 record. He won a technical fall (15-point victory) over Brett Bergmeier of Blue Valley North and then earned a major decision of 13-0 over Lake Deam of Junction City.
"I'd rate today about a six or seven," Prieto said. "I could've done more to get some extra team points. I was ready to get here and wrestle, but the last two days has been good for the team. We did a lot of bonding, but now we're here and we want to do our best."
Prieto said he accomplished one of his season goals on Friday as the two wins assured him of a medal in his first year at the state tourney.
"My next goal is to be in the finals and then to win it," the younger Prieto said. "I know who I've got for tomorrow and I'll focus on that and get ready."
Coach Prieto called Castillo his darkhorse performer of the opening day, not shocked, but ecstatic for what it meant to the team effort.
"Alec has just gotten better every week, every day of the season," coach Prieto said. "We seem to be peaking at the right time."
For Castillo, his first day of state competition will be one for the memory book.
"It was very exciting and something I'll remember for a long time," Castillo said. "My takedowns really helped me and I knew if I got my first match, that it would give me a lot of confidence. I probably won't get much sleep but I'll be ready to go."
In the late consolation rounds, Efrain Sanchez posted an 11-3 major decision to advance to today's consolation cross-bracketing, an important component to the team race.
In addition to Sanchez, the Buffs did well in the consolation bracket, as Zac Finch posted a 17-2 technical fall win and Juan Carlos Rodriguez recorded an identical win in his opening consolation match. In the final bout of the night for Garden, Samson Aldaco lost his 220-pound consolation match, 10-2, to Ryan Carter of Blue Valley North. He was the lone Buffs' wrestler to be eliminated on day one.
See results in Scoreboard, Page D2.