By BRETT MARSHALL
When the 2nd Clarion Inn Southwest Classic tips off on Thursday at three different sites, each of the host schools will be looking to build on season-opening success, bounce back from a disappointing performance, or will be playing for the first time this season.
That's what faces Garden City, Holcomb and Scott City boys and girls teams as they prepare for the three-day Classic in which they will switch opponents that include Wichita Trinity Academy, Denver South and Pueblo (Colo.) East.
Each night, girls action begins at 6 p.m. at the three local/area schools with boys varsity games to follow at approximately 7:45 p.m.
Garden City will take on, in order, Wichita Trinity on Thursday, Denver South on Friday and conclude with Pueblo East on Saturday. Holcomb will open with Denver South, folowed by Pueblo East and Wichita Trinity. Scott City's slate is Pueblo East on Thursday, Wichita Trinity on Friday and Denver South on Friday.
For Garden City's teams, the Classic provides two different opportunities for the boys and girls after their season-opening venture to Hays for the Hays City Shootout.
During the three days of that event, the Buffs' boys won their first two games before falling to Hays High, 57-53, in the championship game on Saturday night. And while the Buffs came up just short, they showed their mettle by rallying from an early 17-point, third-quarter deficit to close to within three points of the Indians with just under two minutes left in the game.
The Buffs had advanced to the title game for the first time since 1988. They had beaten TMP-Marian (65-54) in the opener before dropping Great Bend (56-36) in the semifinals.
In the three games, coach Jacy Holloway's squad got balanced scoring from Tristan Nanninga, Caleb Tramp, Mitchell Hernandez and Hunter Delgado.
In the inaugural Classic a year ago, both the Buffs and Lady Buffs swept their three-game slate. The boys defeated Wichita Trinity (73-69 in overtime), Denver South (57-55) and Dumas, Texas (59-52). The Lady Buffs took wins from Trinity (59-35), Denver South (57-48) and Dumas (50-46).
But the Lady Buffs are coming off a disappointing finish at Hays, placing fifth after suffering two losses on Friday (52-46 to Great Bend), and then to Newton (41-35) in the third-place game. They had opened with a 66-20 win over TMP-Marian.
Cold shooting plagued the Lady Buffs in their two losses, and only Jaymie Bernbeck and Taryn Tempel managed respectable scoring outputs through the three games.
The Garden City teams are no strangers to Pueblo East, however, as they traveled to Pueblo a year ago for the second game of the season just prior to the Classic. The boys were pounded 73-51, while the Lady Buffs won 72-57.
For Holcomb's Longhorns, the three-game set provides both the boys and girls with an opportunity to build on season-opening wins last Friday at home against Class 5A Liberal.
The boys used a strong second-half performance to topple the Redskins, 55-43, while the Lady Longhorns led wire-to-wire in a convincing 71-47 victory.
Trey Sleep and Heath Tucker were the leading scorers for the Longhorns in that win. The Lady Longhorns got a balanced scoring attack from Taylor Deniston, Haley Heydman and Jordan Jarnagin. Deniston scored 28 points, while Heydman and Jarnagin added 16 and 15 points, respectively.
A year ago, the Longhorns went 2-1 in the three-game set, beating Dumas, Texas (78-38) and Wichita Trinity (66-61) before dropping a tough 67-58 battle against Denver South. The Lady Longhorns swept their three opponents in convincing fashion, beating Dumas (74-45), Trinity (74-29) and Denver South (75-57).
It will be the season-opening games for the Beavers of coach Glenn O'Neil, and it will be the coaching debut of Shelby Crawford for the Lady Beavers when they open play on Thursday against Pueblo East.
O'Neil, beginning his 18th season with the Beavers, will have a nearly new cast of players following the three-year state championship run that saw them capture Class 3A state titles in 2011-12-13. Gone from that group are Player of the Year Drew Kite (Fort Hays State), Brett O'Neil (Dodge City C.C.) and Joey Meyer (Colby C.C.). The lone returning starter is junior guard Trey O'Neil, the coach's son, who started a year ago when the Beavers accomplished that rare three-peat.
O'Neil will have had an extra week of preseason practice this year after coaching the football Beavers into the Class 3A sub-state championships before being eliminated by Beloit on Nov. 22. And scheduling this week as the opening games also provided him with another seven days of practice.
"We will be a very different team, of course," O'Neil said in his preseason comments. "I believe our strengths will be in our guards."
In addition to the 6-2 Trey O'Neil, who averaged 11 points and three rebounds last season, coach O'Neil will look to seniors Chris Pounds, Brett Meyer and Chantz Yager, along with sophomore Dylan Hutchinson for backcourt help. Up front, he will look to Sloan Baker and Breyden Strine at the forward spots.
On the girls' side, new coach Crawford will welcome back guard Kelly Wycoff, forward Bailey Nickel and Holly Wilcoxson, all seniors.
For the three visiting schools, it will be difficult to get a feel for what those teams will bring into this year's Classic.
Wichita Trinity's boys were 1-0 after an opening 67-49 victory over Garden Plain, while the Lady Knights fell to the Lady Owls 58-46 last Friday.
Denver South's boys come in at 1-2 with a win over Faith Christian (77-51) before two losses last week to Eaglecrest (71-49) and Dakota Ridge (53-42). The Lady Rebels, meanwhile, lost their first two games to Niwot (61-39) and Evergreen (45-25), and were slated to play Lakewood on Tuesday night.
Pueblo East's Eagles took a 2-1 record into Tuesday night's matchup with Vista Ridge. The Eagles opened with a 96-55 victory over Gateway, followed by a 67-58 loss to Thunder Ridge before bouncing back with an 85-68 win over Heritage. The Lady Eagles also were 2-1 before their Tuesday game with Vista Ridge. They defeated Mitchell (63-22) and Grand Junction Central (62-37) before suffering an 80-46 setback to Mesa Ridge.