Not much has come easy for the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team this season.
A young, talented group of freshmen and sophomores on the fast learning track for high school competition, combined with a thin roster at a couple of the upper weights, along with the usual injuries, and now some illness has made it a tough road.
Yep, it’s been that kind of season for the Buffs.
Yet, on Thursday night at The Garden, they closed out their regular season with a hard-earned 39-25 dual victory over the Colby Eagles that wasn’t clinched until Jacob Holt won a technical fall match at 126 pounds in the next-to-last match of the program.
To make matters even more complicated, head coach Carlos Prieto has been out for more than a week with an illness that hospitalized him for several days.
Then, at weigh-in earlier in the day, 113-pounder Silas Pineda missed weight by two pounds and was sidelined for the night.
That forced assistant head coach Paul Lappin to move his usual 106-pounder, freshman Steven Sellers, to 113, where he was able to produce a 9-0 major decision over Wyatt Tubbs.
“I thought we started off a little sluggish but the kids seemed to warm up as the match progressed,” Lappin said afterward. “We’re still working on the little things, trying to clean some things up, fine tune what we want them doing.”
It had been seven days since the Buffs had been on the mat when they beat Hays, and Lappin said the down time showed in different ways Thursday night.
“Saw some good things, but at the same time I’d say we were a little down from our performance against Hays,” Lappin said. “This is a hard match to prepare for. Everybody’s looking forward to next week (6A super regionals on Feb. 16 and 17 in Wichita).”
The two final matches of the night were Holt’s impressive win over Trey Strammel that took just 1:24 of the first period en route to a 17-2 technical fall.
The Buffs’ sophomore, who claimed the 113-pound state title a year ago as a freshman, said he is now ready for regionals in another week, albeit that the season has been a big learning curve.
“It’s like I’ve had a big target on my back all season,” said Holt. “I’ve got more technique this season and I certainly feel more healthy this season.”
The biggest area of improvement has been his work while on his feet.
“Last year, I wouldn’t ever take a shot, and now I’m doing more of that,” Holt said. “Just trying to be more aggressive, get some points. I just feel like I have more confidence this time around. I’ve got to use every position to my advantage.”
Senior Kaj Perez finished off the victory in his final home match of his four-year career with an impressive 16-0 technical fall over Bryson Metcalf.
A member and medalist at two of the Buffs’ state team titles in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Perez feels like the youthful squad is peaking at the right time.
“I feel like everything’s getting better — my wrestling has improved and the younger guys have been doing more good things,” Perez said. “We just want to finish strong.”
Perez said he is excited about the team’s prospects at regionals and then state.
“It’s hard to tell, but I know if the team wrestles as well as we’re capable, we’re gonna have a shot,” said Perez of the Buffs’ 2017 third-place finish after four straight team titles. “We’re young, but we have a strong team, and if everybody stays healthy, makes weight, and have the right attitude, I think we’ll do well.”
Lappin said one big item on the workout list between now and the regionals will be to improve the overall conditioning.
“We’ve got to get them in better shape, so that will be a focus, too,” Lappin said. “Just working to fine tune a lot of the moves and techniques we’ve worked on all season.”