By BRETT MARSHALL
If there is one thing to take away from Tuesday's season-opening volleyball matches for the Garden City Lady Buffaloes, it would be that they will leave you breathless.
That, in a nutshell, is what one might conclude after the Lady Buffs, playing their opening season match under new coach Shandra Sanders, split matches with Newton and Salina Central at The New Garden.
The Lady Buffs rallied in the first and third sets against Newton, outlasting a tough Lady Railer team, 29-27, 18-25, 25-23 before dropping a two-set match to Central's Lady Mustangs, 25-20, 25-19.
"It's good to see that we can come together and when we play well, and we have it in ourselves, we can come back and win," said senior outside hitter Jill Fischer. "We need to start off a little more strong and trust the system because when we trust the system, we play really well. We don't always want to be known as the comeback kids. We want to start strong."
The Lady Buffs fell behind early in the first set against Newton, trailing by as much as 17-11 before getting on a roll and eventually tying the score at 20, 21, 24, 25, 26 and 27 before winning the final two points for that coveted first set victory.
"That was a big one for us," said senior outside hitter Taryn Tempel. "We were able to get some momentum and that was big for our confidence. I think it's the best start we've had. It's definitely been a change, but it's a good change for us. We've been working on a lot of our defense and there were times tonight we were on point with that."
In the second set, the Buffs led early before the game was knotted at 12. Newton then went on a 13-6 run to finish off the set, forcing that tie-breaking third set.
Once again, the Lady Buffs fell behind early, trailing by as much as 12-4. It wasn't until the Buffs won a marathon point to tie the game at 20 that Garden was then able to win four straight points and hold off the Railers to win by two.
After Central and Newton played the middle match, the Lady Buffs came back out to face the Lady Mustangs and the hour break didn't seem to work in their favor.
Central came out red-hot, scoring the first five points, building the lead to 11-1 before the Lady Buffs got things in gear and began a gradual rally, closing to 23-20 before the Mustangs nailed the final two points to take the first set.
It was much the same story in the second set with Central, as Garden trailed throughout. It was 4-1 early, then 10-5 and 17-12 before the Buffs showed resolve and made one final push. A Tempel kill pulled the Buffs to within 20-19 but then Garden's next serve was out and the Mustangs scored the final four points to win 25-19.
"We've gotta get rid of the hesitation," Sanders said of her players. "Once we get rid of that, it's gonna be great. They're still getting used to the system, it's still new to them. When we hit a lull, we worry about the wrong things."
All in all, however, Sanders saw bright spots.
"A couple of times, we realized we were accidentally in the right spot," she said. "That's a good thing. They are thinking about the game differently. We're getting them trained to watch the ball and players and to be able to react. If they trust the training, things will get better."
The Lady Buffs have little rest before they resume action. They will host Western Athletic Conference foes Great Bend and Liberal at 4 p.m. on Thursday. They will open with Great Bend at 4 o'clock and take on Liberal at 6 p.m. Those visiting teams will play the middle match at 5 o'clock.
Senior Abbi Shaddix started where she left off from her 2012 high school golf season, firing a 3-under-par 34 at Smoky Hill Country Club in Hays on Tuesday to capture the season opening Western Athletic Conference tournament to pace the Lady Buffs to a resounding 29-shot team victory.
The Lady Buffs had a 9-hole team total (4 scores) of 177 to easily outdistance runner-up and host Hays High's 206. Dodge City placed third with a 216 in the 9-team tournament.
Shaddix' blistering round included three birdies, two of which came on par-5s, and six pars for a solid round in the season debut.
"I played pretty well, putted really well," Shaddix said in a telephone interview. "It's a good way to start the season and I'm happy with the way the team played."
Shaddix, who placed sixth at the Class 6A state last year with the Lady Buffs taking a fifth-place team finish, got strong support from freshman Danielle Gasper, who had a 47 and placed fourth, while Lindsay Bradstreet and Megan Steward each shot a 48 to round out the counting scores for coach Melinda Base. Hannah Leiker (54) and Maddie Gerber (56) completed the GCHS scoring.
"It was a great day for the girls," Base said. "I'm proud of the way they played in their first tournament of the season. It's a great win for them. Based upon our qualifying scores, I thought we could get the other three under 50 and we did just that. The others aren't far behind and are certainly capable. I think the girls are pleased but they also know they can improve how they play."
The Lady Buffs will return to competition on Sept. 12 when they travel to Dodge City for a 1 p.m. event at Mariah Hills Golf Course.
Garden City High School cross country coach Krista Linenberger will be taking an upper-classmen dominated team to Great Bend on Thursday for the opening meet of the 2013 season.
Linenberger has made it standard practice not to run any freshmen or first-year team members on the varsity for the season opener. Instead, she will take a group of boys that includes four seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, while the girls, who are considered to be contenders for the Class 6A state title later this fall, will take six seniors and one junior.
On the boys' side, it will be seniors Drew Cady, Josh Kreger, Tucker Schiffelbein and Stephen Bowddhara, while juniors Ray Urbina and Helmer Guevara and sophomore David Acosta-Hernandez round out the squad.
"It's been a wide-open competition for the boys, and there would have been some freshmen in the mix had we considered them for the varsity," Linenberger said. "But we'll let them run junior varsity and see how they do and then make some decisions down the road."
On the girls' side, it is no surprise.
The veteran cast of runners for the Lady Buffs include seniors Alex Miller, Kayla Doll, Chelsea Jackson, Maria Rodriguez, Ashley Smith and Emily Herrada along with junior Katy Doll. Miller, the Doll sisters, Jackson and Rodriguez were members of the 2012 Class 6A state runner-up team while Miller placed second individually. Only senior Neysa Harman, out with an illness, is missing from the lineup.
"The girls have been running good and I'm happy with the effort they've put in," Linenberger said. "The heat last week was tough on them, but I think they're excited to get started and see how the pieces fit."
Linenberger said there were a couple of freshmen girls also in the mix for varsity spots and that those would be determined in the next couple of weeks.
"We've got some options after we see how the kids run," Linenberger said.