By BRETT MARSHALL
Two years ago, the Garden City High School bowling team qualified both its girls and boys teams for the Class 6A state tournament in Wichita.
It was a first for the young program, and the Lady Buffs brought home a third-place team trophy, with Rikkie Hemmert finishing as the individual runner-up.
Last season, the Lady Buffs qualified their team again, finishing fourth, and Hemmert took sixth place. Only one boy — Kieran Henderson — qualified, and he failed to place.
Now, the Buffs are headed back to Wichita on Friday to North Rock Lanes, and this time it will be the boys who are competing as a team while only Amanda Deihl, a junior, will be representing the Lady Buffs.
"If we get four good scores I think we've got a chance to be in contention," said GCHS coach Kip Nichols. "We didn't bowl real well at regionals (finishing third) and still managed to qualify, so I know the boys can do better."
The boys team is comprised of one senior — captain Juan Ramirez Jr. — along with junior Theron Kells, sophomore Braden Davidson and three freshmen — Tristan Funk, Ethan Yardley and Mickey Bridges.
"They're young," Nichols said of his boys squad. "They don't know enough to be scared. They know it's a tall order but I also know what they're capable of doing. We had our best performance of the season at North Rock (in the January Great Plains Invitational), so we're looking forward to that."
Ramirez is the lone member of the team who bowled at the state two years ago, and the appointed team leader wants to take this team to a strong finish.
"I didn't feel a lot of push two years ago, but this time, I think we're a lot closer group and I'm looking forward to seeing how well we can do,"
Like his coach, Ramirez, who will join his former teammate Hemmert at Newman University in Wichita next year, feels this year's Buffs have yet to reach their potential.
"We've had good games, some good series', but we've never had it all going at the same time," Ramirez said. "I've got a lot of faith in this group and we have high expectations. I haven't had the type of senior season I was looking for, so this gives me one final time to make it memorable and finish the way I want."
On the girls side, Deihl surprised many by firing the team's best series at regionals at Thunderbird Lanes in Wichita with a 525 total on games of 190-158-177 to earn the next-to-last individual qualifying spot for the state.
"It's an awesome feeling to make it to state," said Deihl, who is bowling varsity for the first time this season. "I don't consider myself the top bowler on our team, so it's a bit of a surprise to be up there. I just have to go and do my best."
Deihl said her game had steadily improved throughout the season, noting that she was standing differently in her approach and that she had changed her release of the bowling ball. The results have been impressive.
"I would love to have my (girl) teammates with me, but the guys have been great this week in practice," Deihl said. "I'm a little nervous, but very excited at the same time. I don't know what it's going to be like, but I'm sure it will be fun."
Deihl will begin her quest at 9:30 a.m. Friday, while the boys take to the lanes at 2 p.m. Everyone competes in a three-game series for individual honors while on the team side, the best four scores of the six team members count in each game's total.