Most of the remaining Garden City High School spring sports get under way this week, following the Buffs’ girls soccer opening games earlier at the Goddard/Eisenhower Tournament on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The track and field teams open their seasons at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Ulysses Invitational and the girls swimming team also begins its spring season at 4 p.m. by hosting a triangular at the YMCA Pool with Dodge City and Liberal.
The GCHS baseball team was to have begun its season on Monday at Junction City but rain in eastern Kansas forced the doubleheader to be pushed back to next Tuesday.
On Saturday, the Buffs’ boys golf and tennis teams will open their respective seasons as the golf team hosts its own Invitational at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course with a scheduled 9 a.m. shotgun start.
The tennis team, under the guidance of veteran coach Rod Robinson, travels to Great Bend for its first competition.
Also next Tuesday, the GCHS softball team will travel to Goodland for its first two games of the season against the Cowgirls.
Track and Field
Long-time coach Mike Smith has retired and moved to Valley Center to be closer to his family after guiding the program to a successful run in recent years.
GCHS head football coach Brian Hill was named to replace Smith after serving as an assistant for the past several seasons, specializing with the shot put and discus throwers.
“It will be an interesting opportunity now to stand back and watch the entire meet, because I really haven’t done that for about six years,” Hill said recently. “I’m excited to see how the kids do in the first meet.
“We’ve gotten in a lot of practice, worked more on getting into condition, rather than working on specific techniques, which we will do more of as the season progresses. We don’t want to wear the kids out early.”
Both boys and girls teams placed fourth at the 2017 Class 6A state meet in Wichita, and despite some key losses in a number of events, still return a solid nucleus on both the boys and girls sides of the ledger.
“I like the way our returners have worked real hard, and our seniors have provided really good leadership with our younger kids,” Hill said. “I’m excited to see what some of them will do Thursday. We’ll spend a lot of time moving kids around to different events in the first few meets to see how they do in competition, when they’re ahead or when they’re behind, and then start making decisions for later in the season.”
Senior Demarcus Elliott is the top returner for the boys after winning the state shot put with a heave of 52-06.50, his best throw of the season.
Another senior, Garret Doll, placed third in the state 1,600 meters with a time of 4:27.12 while also posting a season best mark of 1:57.97 in the 800.
Returning intact is the 4x800-meter relay team of Kameron Wildeman, Javier Cervantes Fisher and Doll, which placed sixth at the state meet with a time of 8:13.00.
Hill said Doll would only be entered in the open 800 and 4x400-meter relay events on Thursday.
Other returners on the boys side who competed, but did not place, at the state meet include Jarrod Springston in the 110-meter hurdles, Alex Nickell in the 300-meter hurdles and high jump, and Nathaniel Hubbard in the 400.
On the girls side, junior Taylor Savolt is the top scoring returner, having placed second in the 300-meter hurdles (45.83 secs.), fifth in the long jump, sixth in the triple jump and running a leg on the third-place 4x400-meter relay team.
Two members of that team, which hovered right around 4 minutes most of the season, graduated in Kyra Bellows and Aileen Gurrola, while Savolt will be joined by senior Megan Powers.
Hill said he will have Savolt entered in her two jumps, where she had season bests of 17-09 in the long jump and a school record 37-08.50 in the triple jump, while also competing in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles (her best 100 was 16.67 secs.).
“We know what she can do, so we’re gonna let her have a good first meet with the individual events, and give others a chance in the relays,” Hill said of his junior standout.
Senior Raegan Linenberger returns for her final season after placing fourth in the high jump with a personal best of 5-06. Annie Gerber took sixth in the pole vault at 10-00, but Hill said she will sit out the first meet as she continues to recover from a recurring back injury that bothered her during basketball season.
Georgia Kohlhorst (1600 meters), Kaylee Bridges (pole vault), Saleen Wears (pole vault) and Powers (200) also competed individually at the state meet.
Jennifer Meng enters her second year as the girls swimming coach at GCHS, and she returns a veteran cast of competitors.
With a year under her belt of coaching the Buffs, Meng said the team is well ahead of its preseason conditioning and preparation for the Thursday season-opening quad meet they will host at the YMCA Pool at 4 p.m.
Dodge City and Liberal will provide the bulk of the competition as well as the new Holcomb High School girls team, which will bring seven swimmers to the event.
“We’re in a much better position than last year,” Meng said earlier this week. “We’ve got more swimmers with more variety of events in which they can compete. It still feels a little crazy, but a little less so.”
Meng said she also has the added benefit of GCHS boys coach Brian Watkins agreeing to serve as an assistant to the girls team.
“He brings so much experience and knowledge that I can’t even tell you how much better off we are now,” Meng said. “He brings a lot of knowledge about our workouts and has helped us in so many ways.”
The Buffs will have a solid core of returners from last year, including three of the swimmers off the state-qualifying 200-yard medley team in Kirstin Neff, Grace Schmidt and Emma Tull. Those three will be joined by freshman Ashleigh Chappel.
Tull will swim the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley on Thursday, while Neff will compete in the 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle. Schmidt is slated to swim the 200 freestyle and the 100 backstroke, an event in which she did not compete in 2017.
Meng also welcomes back senior Kaitlyn Chappel, who sat out her junior year after competing as a sophomore. Meng said she had 18 girls on the opening meet roster.
The Buffs will have little recovery time, too, as they head to Wichita Heights for a 6 p.m. Friday meet.
Garden City High School’s boys golf team will open its 2018 spring season with its home invitational at 9 a.m. Saturday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
But they will do so without junior Sion Audrain, the defending Class 6A state champion, who won the title last May at Auburn Hills Golf Course in Wichita.
Audrain has been sitting out official practices with the Buffs, head coach Jacob Waller said, in order to play in an AJGA tournament this weekend out of town.
According to guidelines established by the Kansas State High School Activities Association, if Audrain were on the team’s roster now, he would be precluded from playing an outside tournament.
However, Audrain will be added to the team’s roster on Sunday and will be eligible to compete for the Buffs on Monday when they travel to Wichita for the Bishop Carroll Invitational, set to be played at Auburn Hills.
“He’s out there every day, but just not practicing with us,” Waller said. “He’s committed to playing for the team after this one event, so in the long run of the season, I’m okay with him going to play this one AJGA event.”
So without Audrain in the lineup, Waller will go with four other returners from the 2017 squad — juniors Tyler Morren, Mason Shaddix and Aaron Schafer, and sophomore Reid Richmeier. In addition to those four, the varsity roster for Saturday will include senior Alex Acosta and sophomore Kyle Doll, who played on the junior varsity a year ago.
“This gives other people an opportunity to play and will be a gauge of where we’re gonna be without him,” Waller said.
The field for the invitational will be smaller than in recent years, with all four other Western Athletic Conference schools competing — Great Bend, Hays, Dodge City and Liberal — as well as Guymon, Okla.
“So far, with limited time to play due to some weather issues, the top four are so close to each other,” Waller said. “It’s good that we have all season to put our team together when it counts.”
Two doubles teams who had highly-successful 2017 seasons return to give veteran Garden City High School coach much optimism heading into the 2018 campaign, which gets under way Saturday when the Buffaloes travel to the Great Bend Invitational, with a scheduled 9 a.m. start.
Leading the way are junior doubles partners Will Keller and Daniel Darter, who fashioned a 33-9 record a year ago as sophomores and placed 11th at the Class 6A state tournament.
In addition, they won six of the nine tournaments in which they competed, including capturing the Western Athletic Conference title and regional gold medal.
"Both of them went to tennis camps and look a little stronger this year," Robinson said. "They're gonna be the team to beat in the WAC and in the regionals. They're hitting the ball harder and their serves have gotten better."
Also back for their final season are senior doubles partners Daniel Chacon and Brian Carrera. That team compiled a 25-12 record, won five tournaments and also captured the WAC championship.
"Brian has really improved a lot, even though he didn't hit in the offsseason," Robinson said. "We've fixed his serve and he's hitting the ball much harder. Overall, he's improved all of his strokes."
New varsity players, who will be assigned to the singles division, will include junior Huy Nguyen and sophomore Nathan Morren. Nguyen will be slotted into the No. 1 spot with Morren at No. 2. Nguyen was 22-5 at the junior varsity level in 2017.
"I'm a little concerned with singles since they haven't much experience at the varsity level," Robinson said of his two newcomers to singles. "But they've shown a lot of hard work in the preseason so I'm going to be interested to see how they do in their first time at the varsity level."
All in all, however, Robinson said he believes the Buffs are the favorite to win the WAC.
"If our singles players improve and our doubles players compete at the level I expect, we will certainly be in the hunt," Robinson said. "And I think we'll have a chance to get at least the doubles teams to state."
After Saturday's opener, the Buffs will have 10 days before their next tournament, which will be April 10 at Salina Central. They will host their own GCHS Invitational on April 21.