It’s been a season without a full lineup for the Garden City High School wrestling team.

Injuries, illness, and then open spots at both 182 and 195 pounds, have hampered the Buffs all season at big tournaments.

So it was once again no surprise that the same things were apparent on Thursday night at The Garden, but the Buffs that did get mat time earned a well-deserved 41-28 dual meet win over Hays High.

The victory enabled the Buffs to complete the Western Athletic Conference with a 3-1 dual record, and have assured themselves of at least a tie for the league title with Dodge City, and perhaps Great Bend, which has one match remaining next week with Hays.

But for Thursday night, it was all about taking care of business, and the healthy Buffs did just that.

Of the 14 matches, the Buffs won nine, including four by falls, one tech fall, and four by decisions. They had to forfeit six points at 195 without a wrestler in the lineup.

This year’s Buffs are a young team, with only 132-pounder Kaj Perez as the lone senior in the lineup.

Perez was impressive in his 18-3 tech fall win over Tadin Flinn, reflecting a more aggressive style as he has reached the second half of the season.

“I’ve definitely improved in the second half of the season,” said Perez. “I’m making more moves to get more points and trying to get pins, tech falls or major decisions instead of winning 2-1, 3-2, scores like that.”

Perez said that while he is the lone senior in the lineup, he feels good about his new leadership role with the young Buffs.

“I kinda like it, and it’s something different for me,” said the usually quiet Perez. “I’m trying to teach them all the little things that I was taught by seniors when I was a freshman — just doing the best I can to lead the team.”

Perez said his season began to turn around at the early January Norton Invitational, and since then he’s been more aggressive.

“It’s helping me win by more points and that helps the team,” he said. “I’m trusting my coaches, and hitting more moves and just trying to dominate the matches more.”

Sophomore Malachi Salas also earned an impressive 9-3 decision over Hazen Kenner at 138 pounds, and said he and his teammates are looking forward to the stretch run of the season.

“Just continuing to work hard in practice and making sure we’re getting through the grind part of the season,” Salas said. “I felt comfortable being at home with the crowd tonight. Winning the WAC feels good, but our main focus is regionals and state.”

Salas said he has improved his wrestling technique while on his feet.

“I think I’m a bit quicker, and it gives me more chances of shooting,” Salas said.

Assistant coach Paul Lappin, filling in for head coach Carlos Prieto, who was home with an illness, said he thought the team wrestled well, just five days off the Rocky Welton finish on Saturday.

“We had some kids fill in and did a good job,” Lappin said, noting 145-pounder Wyatt McElroy getting a fall in the early part of the third period against Kyle Casper. “I thought we competed hard. This is always a hard one because it’s difficult to get right back after the Welton. We cleaned up some things that we’ve worked on, and I thought it showed we made some progress the last few days in the practice room.”

Next up for the Buffs will be the regular season finale on Thursday with a home dual against Colby. First match scheduled for 7 p.m. and it will be senior night.

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