The opening tournament of the season has always been a big challenge for the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team.

That’s one reason why head coach Carlos Prieto takes his team to the Denver area for the Battle of the Best at Pine Creek High School.

After going 3-0 in Friday’s opening day of team dual matches, the Buffs more than had their hands full during Saturday’s final round, going just 1-3 to finish 4-3 and come home with a sixth-place finish.

“It might be the first time we’ve been out of the top three since we’ve been going there,” Prieto said of his squad’s finish. “But this year, I’d say the tournament was even tougher than it’s been, and we’re an awfully young team — talented, yes — but young, and we’ve got a lot of learning to do to get better.”

Overall, however, Prieto said he was pleased with the performance of a number of his wrestlers, considering the overall youth and high school varsity inexperience.

“We had a number of freshmen and a couple of sophomores who were wrestling 17-18 year olds with three and four years experience,” Prieto said.

Saturday’s final day of team duals saw the Buffs drop matches to Castle View, Colo., 48-33; Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., 42-27, and Pueblo West, Colo., 39-34. Their lone win of the day came against Falcon, Colo., by a 57-24 margin.

“We could have very easily returned to the Amarillo (Texas) duals and dominated there, but this tournament really shows us what we need to work on,” Prieto said.

Freshman Steven Sellers (106) finished 7-0. Defending state champion Jacob Holt (won at 113 pounds a year ago) went 6-1 at 120 pounds. His lone setback came against Castle View’s Malik Heinselman via a fall at 1:26. Heinselman, according to Prieto, has verbally committed to attend Ohio State University next year. Sophomore Alex Rodriguez, who dropped from 182 to 170 this season, also posted a 7-0 mark.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids with a lot of potential,” Prieto said. “I thought, for the most part, the kids held their own. We took some lumps. I’m excited for our freshman class, and they’re gonna get better.”

Sophomore Diago Hernandez also finished 6-1, as did senior 285-pounder James Cisneros. Senior Kaj Perez (132) finished 5-2.

“We’ve got some holes in a couple of the weights, and we’ve got others who don’t have much varsity experience,” Prieto said. “The kids right now are learning a lot. I think we’ve got a chance to be good when it’s time for us to be good. But there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Next up for the Buffs will be a split schedule on Friday and Saturday. Some of the team will compete Friday and Saturday at the Ulysses Invitational, while other team members will travel back to the Denver area for a one-day Saturday event, the Ridge Rage Tournament, at Palmer Ridge High School.

“With the squad being split, it will not reflect much on the team scoring as much as it does on how the individuals do,” Prieto said.

The Buffs will close out the pre-holiday schedule on Dec. 15-16 at the Kansas City Stampede, while other team members will compete in the Dec. 16 Goodland duals.

Contact Brett Marshall at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.