A year ago, the Garden City High School girls bowling team withstood the immense pressure of being the defending state Class 6A champions. In each of the big regular season tournaments, the Buffaloes dominated.

They even downed annual title contenders Haysville-Campus in the region tournament. But when they got to state, it was Campus that got the last laugh, unseating the Buffs from the state title.

So coming into this year, the Buffs face another type of pressure — trying to reach the pinnacle once again. That trek begins Saturday in the Bishop Carroll Invitational.

“Last year, they walked around with the target on their backs all year long, and then they just came out and dominated all year long,” GCHS head coach Kip Nichols said. “Great Plains tournament, the largest in the state, and won that. Went over to regionals and won that, and beat the Campus Colts.”

Their only failing, Nichols said, was the state tournament, in which they took second. But this year, five of their six varsity spots will be filled by returners, and the sixth will be filled by a freshman who won the spot over another returner.

Seniors Faith Whited, Ryleigh Whitehurst and Alexis Leon all return, as do juniors Karly Larson and Angelina Leeper. Larson led the Buffs at state a year ago with a seventh-place finish (542), and Whited was 13th (514). Whitehurst tied for 23rd, Leeper 25th and Leon 38th.

Freshman Holly Bridges completes the stacked six-bowler lineup.

“She’s going to make us even better than we were,” Nichols said of Bridges.

The only question may be her handling of the pressure of a program that won its first state title two years ago, finished second this year and enters this year as state favorites.

“Five of the girls of the six varsity girls know what pressure is,” Nichols said. “They know how to handle it.”

On the boys’ side, the Buffs are young, returning just two from a year ago — sophomore Caidan Orozco and senior Brayden Bicket. They both competed at state a year ago as individuals.

The rest of the team will be comprised of senior Ethan Newberry and freshmen Ty Weilert, Dionicio Resendiz and Caden Whitehurst, the younger brother of Ryleigh Whitehurst.

The Whitehursts will not be available on Saturday in the opening tournament due to a death in the family, Nichols said.

“They’re all very talented young men,” Nichols said of the Buffs’ three freshmen. “They have brought a breath of fresh air to our program. I’m tickled to death to see what they can bring to this program over the next four years.”