Once every five years, the Garden City High School cross country team gets to run at home.
So when that rare opportunity presents itself, the Buffaloes girls and boys want to make sure they give it their best shot.
Thursday was the latest “home” course advantage for the Buffs as they hosted the Western Athletic Conference meet for the first time since 2012 at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
And the girls, behind senior Brooke Navarro and junior Taylor Savolt, somehow squeaked out the narrowest of victories over Great Bend for the team title while the Buffs’ boys, getting three top 10 runners (Sotero Salazar fifth, Javier Cervantes sixth, Kameron Wildeman seventh), placed second behind winning Great Bend.
Navarro and Savolt placed third (17:23.9) and seventh (17:55.3) as the Buffs finished with 51 points to tie Great Bend for the top five runners. That sent the meet to the tiebreaker sixth runner, where Georgia Kohlhorst took 17th compared to Great Bend’s Briana Perez's 36th.
The fifth-sixth-seventh place finishes for the boys enabled them to finish with 49 points, while Great Bend took the top spot with 39 points, using a strong 1-2-10 finish to keep the Buffs from a clean sweep of the day’s races.
The demanding Dunes layout is perhaps one of the more difficult ones the Buffs run during the fall season, citing Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence as the toughest.
“It means a lot. I feel like we’ve all run really good this season, and I went out and did really good, and my teammates did really good,” Navarro said. “I was really shocked it was so close. I thought we were really strong.”
Running at home for the first and only time in her four-year high school career made the day special for Navarro, who, along with her twin sister Mya (16th, 18:37.9), was on the GCHS junior varsity team just a year ago.
“It was pretty cool,” Brooke Navarro said. “I feel like I gave it all. It was pretty tough. The other races are usually pretty flat, so this one was a lot harder. This feels really good and I’m really excited for what comes next.”
With the girls team capturing first, it was left to the boys to try and complete the double, but they were unable to overcome the top Great Bend runners, led by winner Kerby Depenbush, whose winning time was 17:11.9, nearly 22 seconds ahead of teammate Connor Griffith.
Garden’s Cervantes, usually the top runner, had battled a little stomach disorder earlier in the day, but battled through it while not at his best.
“I didn’t feel good much of the day, but just tried to go out and do my best,” Cervantes said.
It was Salazar who carried the flag for the Buffs at home, and the senior was pleased with how his race developed.
“We knew they (Great Bend) were going to be the competition,” Salazar said of the Panthers. “We ran the best we could today.”
Salazar’s time of 17:58.6 was five seconds ahead of Cervantes, and seven seconds in front of Wildeman as the three top Buffs were closely packed.
The GCHS senior said he didn’t mind the warm temperature, which reached into the mid-80s by race time (5:30 p.m.).
“The heat felt great and didn’t really bother me at all,” Salazar said. “For me, it was a perfect day to run.”
Like most of the other runners, Salazar said the steep hill at the 17th hole on the back nine of the Dunes provided the sternest test of the 5-kilometer (3-mile) race.
“That’s the hardest place of all, just trying to get to the top of the hill,” Salazar said. “You’ve got to find a way to keep going. I try to lean in, and keep my stride. We’ve been looking forward to running at home and it was great to see all the people out here.”
Head coach Krista Linenberger was pleased to see the girls come away with the win, while also saying she knew the boys race would be challenging with Great Bend.
“I’m excited for the girls because they’ve worked pretty hard,” Linenberger said. “We kinda knew Great Bend would be right there. Some of the girls didn’t run their best, but then we had Taylor and Sydney (Scott, 11th, 18:09.2) come up with their best performances of the season. They really stepped up big time.”
On the boys side of the competition, Linenberger said the finish should leave the boys hungry as they prepare for the Class 6A regional on Oct. 21 at Cessna Activity Center in Wichita.
“There was a bit of struggle out there today, but they all gave their best shot,” Linenberger said. “I think this will give them some things to work toward next week.”
Other finishers for the Buffs girls included Makaylee Longoria (14th, 18:31.7), Abby Murrell (18th, 18:53.7), Kaety Kohlhorst (34th, 20:20.5) and Raegan Linenberger (40th, 21:27.0). For the boys, the remaining runners who counted in the team points were Ethan Fisher (14th, 18:25.1) and Javyn Contreras (17th, 18:42.7). The rest of the Buffs included Mario Bustillos (18th, 18:45.1), Spencer Murrison (25th, 19:08.4), Jesus Quintero Enriquez (29th, 19:51.5), Brody Hoff (30th, 19:59.9) and Aaron Riojas (31st, 20:02.5).