Editor’s Note: This is the 10th in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 sports stories for 2014.
When the Garden City Buffaloes’ wrestling team won the Class 6A state team championship in 2013, it marked the first time in 14 years that the squad had brought home the prestigious trophy.
So when the 2014 state tournament rolled around, the Buffs were seeking to repeat for the first time since 1998-1999.
As the No. 1-ranked team all season, winning the Rocky Welton Invitational for the 29th time in program history during the regular season, the pressure was on the Buffs, and the Derby Panthers were the major roadblock in their way.
On the first day of the two-day state event, the Buffs trailed the Panthers for much of the opening rounds, but finally with seniors Sammy Reyes (195) and Montana Fuller (285) winning semifinal matches, the Buffs grabbed the team lead heading into the Saturday final.
With strong performances from top to bottom, the Buffs had two individual champions, two runners-up, one third, a pair of fourth-place finishes and one fifth-place medalist. In all, eight of the Buffs came home with an individual medal.
That enabled the Buffs to stave off the Panthers on the final day, finishing with 153.5 points to Derby’s 135.5, making the title The Telegram’s top sports story of 2014.
Leading the way were a pair of two-time champions, repeating their efforts of 2013 but in different weight classes.
Junior Tevin Briscoe won his second consecutive title, this one at 138 pounds, with a challenging 4-3 decision over Garrett Xanders of Derby. Sophomore Michael Prieto, wrestling at 113 pounds, also garnered his second gold medal with a dominating 12-2 major decision over Jacob Bonham of Gardner-Edgerton.
Briscoe basked in the knowledge that it was his victory that put the Buffs over the top, ensuring enough points to keep Derby in the runner-up position with several matches yet to be contested.
“I think he (Xanders) knew that I was a big-time thrower and he wrestled on his knees,” Briscoe said after his title match. “That made it difficult for me to get to him for a tilt. The win feels amazing, and the team win is even more so. Efrain (Sanchez, 3rd at 106) and Michael getting us started on the team side today, we just had a lot of momentum.”
Briscoe had battled injuries during the season, but got healthy enough and finished the season with a brilliant 33-3 record.
For Prieto, wrestling for his coach/father Carlos, the win at 113 made him the first GCHS wrestler to win back-to-back titles as a freshman and sophomore.
“This year feels a little different because I was able to get the bonus points, and that made it special,” Prieto said.
Prieto posted a 44-2 season record and upped his two-year career mark to 85-4.
But more than anything else, it was the performance of seniors Reyes and Fuller that pushed the Buffs into their second straight crown. Both secured their semifinal victories by pinning their opponents. Both eventually came up short in their championship matches, losing closely-contested bouts to higher-seeded opponents.
And the fact that the Buffs did it without another No. 1-ranked wrestler, senior Chris Adler, made it all the more impressive. Adler suffered a broken bone in his left hand during his consolation semifinal loss on Saturday and was unable to finish the tourney.
With a ninth team championship secured, the Buffs could lay claim to being the top team in Kansas wrestling. And with a strong contingent of underclassmen and promising newcomers, the Buffs were already looking ahead to working their way toward a three-peat in 2015.