If there was one certainty about Tuesday’s home season opening triangular for the Garden City Buffaloes volleyball team it was that the two Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Class 5A powerhouses coming to town would have at least some advantage.
Despite having to travel the 200 miles to play, Newton and Salina Central had already each played six matches prior to arriving at The Garden to take on the Buffs.
Throw in the fact that Newton had a veteran lineup while Central is traditionally among the top 10 programs in 5A, as are the Railers, and GCHS coach Trista Bailey admittedly knew it would be a tough two matches.
And it certainly turned out that way.
After defeating Salina Central, 25-11, 25-19, in a two-set sweep that was much more difficult than the score would indicate due to the hard-fought second set, the Buffs and Railers capped off the evening’s action with a dramatic three-setter that had all the markings of a postseason battle.
Against Central, junior Reagan Karlin led the way with 11 kills and sophomore Julie Calzonetti contributed 9. Remi Vargas accounted for 27 assists while Kelbi Richter topped the defensive side with 14 digs. Abby Parr was next with 7 while Calzonetti and Vargas had six apiece.
The first set with the Railers was a nail-biter all the way, with neither team holding more than a four-point lead. Late in the set, the Buffs went from down 19-22 to up 23-22 thanks in part to a nifty tip shot by Ashlyn Swan.
But that would be it for the Buffs, as Newton rattled off three straight points when two Garden shots deep into the court went long.
“We knew these would be two difficult matches,” Bailey said of the split for her youthful team. “I’m just proud of the way the girls fought throughout both matches. There’s a lot of positives to take away from tonight.”
Newton had also handled Central in the middle match, knocking off the Mustangs 25-20, 25-21, entering the showdown with the Buffs at 7-0.
After seeing that first-set opportunity slip away, though, the Buffs regrouped and came out hitting on all cylinders in the second set against the Railers.
Leading early 4-1, they extended their advantage to 12-6, and eventually building it to 21-9, before Newton mounted a mini-rally, but never getting any closer than nine points as the Buffs pounded their way to a 25-14 triumph to send the match to a third and deciding set.
“It was exciting in many ways,” Bailey said. “I thought our defense was pretty scrappy and not be satisfied with just getting balls that are off the ground.”
In that deciding set, the Buffs and Railers were tied at 4, before the visitors went on a 9-2 run to take command at 13-6.
Following a much-needed timeout, the Buffs then strung together an 8-4 run to close to within 17-14.
But that’s when an inadvertent net serve by the Buffs stifled the momentum. From that 18-14 deficit, the Buffs never recovered and could only close to within three points, the last at 21-18 before the Railers closed it out with four consecutive points, the final on a kill by senior outside hitter Maggie Remsberg, one of the top players in Kansas.
“We’re going to have to do a better job on offense of mixing up the tempo on our swings,” Bailey said. “We were too predictable with our tendencies. There’s more ways to score than to just swing, swing, swing the ball around.”
Despite dropping the high-intensity match, Bailey came away with a lot of positive feelings about her young team that has just one senior, Taylor Terpstra.
“Taylor had a nice game with a lot of good shots,” Bailey said of the 5-9 outside hitter. “It’s good to see that kind of play, but we also got some good play from our younger players as well.”
In the setback against Newton, Terpstra topped the offensive side with 11 kills and Karlin was right behind with 10. Sophomore Abby Ellerman contributed 5. Vargas had 24 assists and 13 digs, Richter led the way with 16 digs and Calzonetti also finished with 13 digs. Serving will be an area with emphasis in Wednesday's practice after the Buffs managed just 89.8 and 90.8 percent, below what they had finished with in 2017.
The Buffs will get one day of practice before returning to the court when they will host Great Bend, Liberal and Colby Thursday in a 4 p.m. quadrangular at The Garden.
“It will give us a chance to clean some things up, get back on the court and continue to get better,” Bailey said. “Early on, you just learn from what you’ve done and move on.”