When Carlos Prieto was named the new Garden City High School wrestling coach in mid-April 2012, replacing long-time head and assistant coach Monte Moser, the 44-year-old Scott City native knew he was moving into the deep water.
After all, you don't assume control of one of Kansas' most tradition-rich wrestling programs without full knowledge that expectations and pressure will be high.
But that didn't seem to bother Prieto in the slightest.
He dove right in and started swimming.
He rearranged his assistant coaching staff, pulling in former GCHS wrestlers with whom he had previously worked in Greater Gold and other youth wrestling ventures.
Prieto began the building process with a strong nucleus of returners from a team that had been beset by injuries and still feeling the aftershocks of the death in September 2011 of standout Braxston Medina.
Never a state champion wrestler while competing for the Beavers of Scott City, Prieto nonetheless came to the job with the Buffs with strong credentials.
He had been the head coach at Ulysses from 2001 to 2005 and during that time brought teams to the then Garden City Invitational (now Rocky Welton Invitatonal), and in consecutive years (2002-2003) his Tigers placed second and third in the team competition. In 2002, he had four finalists and would eventually coach a few state champions.
Then, he moved to Garden City, where he became an assistant to Martin Segovia and then to Moser. Segovia had replaced the legendary Welton in 2000, and Moser assumed the top spot in 2007.
Prieto took a brief leave from GCHS and oversaw the Holcomb High School team for just one season, before opting to come back to Garden City where he remained as a teacher of Read 180, helping students with reading comprehension difficulties.
In his beginning years of coaching, he was mentored by current and longtime Scott City coach Jon Lippelman.
It was in 2002 that Prieto first was introduced to Welton, the legendary coach who guided the Buffs' program to six state championships in the 1990s.
"We had just finished second in the Garden invitational, and this gentleman came down out of the stands," Prieto recalled. "He walked up to me and said, 'I really like the way your kids wrestle and the way they conduct themselves. You're doing a good job.' Well, that was Rocky Welton!"
Prieto said he obviously knew who Welton was, but other than a brief introduction in the late 1990s when he was an assistant in Ulysses, he had little firsthand contact with the former GCHS coach.
"I was just honored to have him say something like that," Prieto said on Monday, two days removed from leading the Buffs to their first Class 6A state championship (eighth overall) and the first since Welton's final title run in 1999. "Anytime another coach, but especially somebody like coach Welton, says they like how your kids wrestle, you are just thrilled because they know more about that than anyone."
Prieto said prior to the start of fall classes at the new GCHS school that he hoped to bring home the first state championship in the new building. Count that goal as firmly accomplished.
He also mentioned taking his inaugural Buffs' team, 22 of them plus his entire coaching staff, to Gunnison, Colo., last summer for a team camp. While there, Prieto, every single coach and every single wrestler climbed one of the nearby mountain peaks.
"When we got them to the top, I stopped and told them to look back down," Prieto said of that special moment. "It's harder to climb to the top than it is to go back down. Once you get to the top, you want to stay there. The view's a lot better."
Part of the special moments of this state championship also came when Prieto's son, Michael, claimed the 106-pound state championship to become the first GCHS freshman in school history to win an individual title. Sophomore Tevin Briscoe won an individual title at 132 pounds, putting himself into lofty territory, too. No Buffs' wrestler has won three individual state championships, and only three have won two.
Prieto also was recognized on Saturday with the Sportsmanship Award/Class 6A coach of the year by the Kansas Association of Wrestling Officials.
It is safe to say that the trip to the mountaintop in Colorado wasn't — and won't be — the last time the Buffs are at the top looking down. The future of GCHS wrestling appears bright.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.