By BRETT MARSHALL
It has been a summer of transition for the Garden City High School girls' volleyball team.
That's not an unusual situation for the six seniors who comprise half of the 12-player varsity roster selected by new head coach Shandra Sanders.
For the third time in their four years of high school, the Lady Buffs seniors have a new coach.
And now the summer workouts and camps, along with two weeks of preseason practice and tryouts are over.
On Tuesday, the Lady Buffs will begin their season by hosting Salina Central and Newton in a triangular meet that begins at 4 p.m. at The New Garden.
Garden City and Newton begin the tripleheader, followed by the two visiting teams at 5 p.m. and concluding with Salina Central and the Lady Buffs.
It's time to play, and Sanders couldn't be more pleased with what she's seen from her team.
"I am very pleased with how the girls have made the adjustments and absorbed the things we're teaching," Sanders said. "I think we have a good chance to be pretty strong this year. They're very athletic."
The two-time Western Athletic Conference champions and Class 6A sub-state runners-up, the Lady Buffs will look to a combination of seniors — six of them — along with a strong underclassmen group, to improve on last season's 18-15 record under Sara Stecki. In her two seasons with GCHS, Stecki guided the Lady Buffs to a 40-30 overall record (22-15 in 2011).
"The girls have had a huge improvement in their serves and serve receive skills," Sanders said. "They're getting more aggressive with their serves and they are managing space better. They're learning how to track the ball on the serve receive side of the net. Defensively, they're learning how to control the ball better."
The seniors on the team are Jacksenie Tornero, Taryn Tempel, Jamie St. Clair, Taylor Linenberger, Jill Fischer and Alyssa Bordewick. The underclassmen who made it through the tryouts are juniors Sydney Bellows, Jayme Bernbeck, Brianna Elliot, Erin Kunely and Laura Richmeier. Erika Schafer was the lone sophomore to crack the varsity roster.
"We haven't done explicitly our offense until today," Sanders said on Wednesday. "From where they were two months ago, I am astounded how well they have picked things up. They're processing the game very well and they are understanding the speed of the game better."
Sanders said one of her teaching points is to get the players to have a better understanding, anticipation of how the game is played.
"It's about identifying what is coming at them," Sanders said of the learning process. "They can start to see what the other side players are doing rather than just watching the ball. They can problem solve better and are able to think together."
Sanders said it was important for her players to learn that in preseason practice and be able to implement those skills during matches.
"They need to be able to do that at game speed," Sanders said. "I can't help them from the sideline. They have to watch players to play defense and identify where the ball is coming off the server's hand."
Sanders said she had made the preseason practices as demanding as possible, putting players into stress situations.
"We want to put kids in situations where they can be successful," Sanders said. "We run stressful practices so we can see who manages that correctly."
Following Tuesday's triangular, the Lady Buffs will resume play quickly as they host another triangular at 4 p.m. Thursday when WAC foes Great Bend and Liberal come to town.
Second-year Lady Buffs coach Melinda Base is happy with her team's preseason preparation for Tuesday's opening tournament at Smoky Hill Country Club in Hays.
The Lady Buffs will compete in the 9-hole Western Athletic Conference meet with a mix of veteran players and youth.
Senior Abbi Shaddix, sixth in the Class 6A state meet a year ago and the reigning WAC Player of the Year, led the team's qualifying during the past two weeks.
Also earning varsity spots for the beginning of the season were junior Lindsay Bradstreet, senior Megan Steward, freshman Danielle Gasper and sophomores Hannah Leiker and Maddie Gerber.
"So far, the girls have really worked hard and we have great expectations," Base said of the team that placed fifth in the state meet in 2012. "I think with what I've seen, that the team will be better than I originally thought. We've had good competition. I think we've got a real solid team. I think after last year, the girls were really motivated. They want to play. They want to compete."
The Buffs' boys soccer team will begin its fall season at 1 p.m. Monday with a first-round matchup with Maize High in the Wichita South Titan Classic.
Coach Joaquin Padilla's team is coming off one of its best seasons in school history, having gone 15-3-0, winning the Western Athletic Conference and reaching the 6A regional championship game before losing in double overtime to Derby.
Back from that squad is leading scorer, junior Eric Barragan, who had 19 goals and 8 assists a year ago while earning first-team all-WAC honors. Junior mid-fielder David Amaro also returns, having scored six goals and adding four assists. Other returning letter winners include senior mid-fielder David Fuentes, junior mid-fielder/forward Esteban Neave.
The battle for goalkeeper is not settled yet and Padilla said that decision would likely be made after the team practiced today.
"We've worked with the kids in the summer and they've come along really well," Padilla said. "The kids have committed themselves to winning. The ones who came got in and lifted weights and are stronger. We've got really good speed and I think one of the keys will be how we transition from defense to offense and use our speed."
The goalkeeper battle is between junior Kevin Martinez and senior Isreal Reyes.
"They're both very quick, but they're not very tall," Padilla said. "We hoped to have someone with some height there, but it didn't work. I think we have a chance to be a good team. But we've got a tough bracket in the tournament."
Win or lose, the Buffs will play again on Thursday in the Classic. A win and it's a 6 p.m. against the Great Bend-Wichita Kapaun winner. A loss and it's a 4 p.m. consolation match against one of those teams.