Storming to the title
By BRETT MARSHALL
PARK CITY — A winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on Wichita on Wednesday and Thursday forced the Garden City Buffaloes to head to the Air Capital two days ahead of the Class 6A state wrestling tournament.
When the Buffaloes left Hartman Arena Saturday night, they had created their own storm, plowing through their state competition with hardly any suspense and easily capturing the team championship, the school's eighth team state title and first since 1999, when Rocky Welton coached his final year and led the team to its sixth crown of the 1990s.
The Buffs built such a big lead that their 143 points before the championship round was enough to beat runner-up Junction City, and when the final tally was completed, they had compiled 173.5 points to Junction City's 125.5. Derby (117.5), Wichita Northwest (107.5) and Gardner-Edgerton (106.5) rounded out the top five. Defending champion Manhattan was a distant sixth with 86 points.
The Buffaloes' accomplishment came on the strength of depth and qualify finishes, as two of the Buffs' — freshman Michael Prieto and sophomore Tevin Briscoe — captured individual titles at 106 and 132 pounds. Three other Buffs finished second, all coming up just short in their title matches — senior AJ Hurtado at 138 pounds, senior Trevor Kennedy at 145 pounds and senior Anthony Gardner at 170 pounds.
Junior Sammy Reyes snared a third-place finish at 195 pounds, and freshman Alec Castillo was fourth at 126 pounds. Junior Chris Adler gathered a fifth-place medal at 152 pounds, giving the Buffs eight medal-winners.
The team title came in Carlos Prieto's first year as head coach, after serving as an assistant under Monte Moser.
And the title was as sweet as it could be.
"They wrestled for each other," Prieto said of his team. "They just left everything out on the mat. The last couple of weeks, I knew we were peaking, and we happened to hit it at the right time."
With the start of the meet delayed six hours on Friday due to the winter storm, the Buffs had nine of their 13 qualifiers advance to the second round, before finishing with seven who won quarterfinal matches Friday night. With the format rescheduled, the Buffs had until 9 a.m. Saturday to prepare for the championship semifinals, where they went 5-2, getting the most wrestlers to the title matches since the 1991 state championship team, which also had five.
"You couldn't have asked any more from the boys," Prieto said. "You listen to all of them, and all they're talking about is the team and doing what they can for their teammates. It's something that we as a coaching staff really emphasized all season, and it carried through. All the credit to the boys and to my assistants. I have the best staff in Kansas, and I just tried to stay out of the way and not mess it up."
Only the 1997 team, which did not win the state team title, came home with more individual gold when the Buffs had three state titlists in Billy Blackwell, Richard Janas and Rob Mouser. The 1990 state championship team also had two individual winners in James Cross and Martin Segovia, who now serves as the athletic director at GCHS. The 2010 fourth-place Buffs had gold medal winners in Lane Greenlee and Joey Dozier.
The eight medalists for the Buffs isn't an all-time best, but it ranks as among the top performances by a GCHS team. In 1993, the state champion Buffs had 11 medalists, and the 1998 title team had 10. The 1992 winners and the 2003 runners-up each had nine medal winners.
"This is for the kids, the community and everyone involved with the program," Prieto said. "The boys wrestled hard, they wrestled their hearts out and they wrestled for each other. Everything we did this season was pointed to winning the team championship and bringing it back to Garden City."
The overall strength of the Buffs was never more evident than when Reyes made it to the semis, along with Castillo.
"Alec just kept improving every day, every week of the season," Prieto said of the freshman. "Sammy perhaps was the most impressive, the most improved in the last three weeks of the season. He made great strides, and I couldn't be more proud of him and all the others. How well we did here is a reflection of how tough a schedule we had through the season. The kids believed in what we were teaching, and we got better. Like Alec, (Reyes) knocked off several state-ranked placers."
Prieto's son, Michael, got the Buffs off and rolling, becoming the first freshman in school history to claim an individual state championship. He did so with an impressive 7-0 whitewashing of Doug Newcomb of Olathe Northwest. The victory completed a dream season in which the younger Prieto, who transferred from Holcomb to wrestle for his father, finished with a 41-2 record.
"It's been somewhat of a fairytale season," coach Prieto said. "My first year as a head coach, my son winning as a freshman and the team winning. Wow! It's been an amazing run. I'm very excited both as a coach and as a father. Michael's just been amazing, but I could say the same thing about so many others."
It took a bit of luck for the younger Prieto to get to the title match. In his semifinal match against Landon Wood of Maize, Prieto was trailing 2-0 with just 30 seconds left in the final period. But Wood was assessed a 1-point penalty for stalling after being warned. Then, with just 6 seconds on the clock, Prieto got a 1-point escape to tie the score at 2 and the buzzer then went off, sending it into a 1-minute sudden death overtime period. With 34 seconds showing, Prieto made a quick move to take down Wood and the match was over.
Briscoe, who became only the fourth sophomore in GCHS history to win a state title, was just as impressive in his march to the title. Blackwell, Ryan Kromer (now an assistant coach) and Jon Bigler were the three previous sophomore champs.
Briscoe scored a team-high 28 points as he won his first two matches by pinning his opponents. He then earned a 12-2 major decision in the semis over Tanner Madl of Blue Valley and duplicated that with a 13-3 domination of Dylan Beckner of Wichita Northwest in the finals.
"He's one of the most talented wrestlers we've got, and certainly as talented as anybody in the state," Prieto said of Briscoe, who finished 40-4. "I think the sky's the limit for him."
While Hurtado, Kennedy and Gardner all came up shy in the finals, the Buffs still made an impressive conclusion to the storybook season. They had been ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls and stayed there the entire campaign. The only Kansas team to best the Buffs was Class 5A champion Arkansas City.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.