When the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team completed their 2014-15 tournament schedule, third-year coach Carlos Prieto had an eye on making things a little more difficult for his two-time defending Class 6A state championship squad.

With an abundance of returning state medalists, including a pair of two-time state champions, Prieto sought to strengthen the early part of the schedule prior to the Christmas holiday break.

On Saturday, the Buffs got what Prieto was looking for at the Battle of the Best in Colorado Springs, Colo., where they finished in third place at the 24-team tournament, compiling a 6-1 record over the two days of the season-opening event.

“Overall, I thought the kids enjoyed the competition,” Prieto said. “It was head and shoulders tougher than the Amarillo (Texas) duals we’ve been competing at the last couple of years. We saw some standout kids from the other teams — we got some tough matches in. The losses we had I think will build character in the boys.”

No mistake about it, the competition was of a high caliber, with the Buffs taking on the top three teams from the Class 5A Colorado state championship in Arvada West, Denver Pomona and Ponderosa.

After claiming their Pool C preliminary victory with five wins, the Buffs faced Arvada West, only to come up on the short end of a 40-30 margin. In the third-place match, they defeated Pomona, 39-18, and earlier had beaten Ponderosa, 49-16.

“Our young kids really did a great job for their first high school tournament,” Prieto said of Kaj Perez (106), Curtis Near (132) and Quenton LaPointe (152). “They show a lot of promise, but I’m not surprised because they’ve been wrestling at high-level events since they were much younger.”

Perez went 7-0 over the two days of matches while Near was 5-2 and LaPointe 4-3.

Garden’s pair of two-time state champs — senior Tevin Briscoe (145) and junior Michael Prieto (126) — also posted unbeaten marks in seven matches. Others who came home with a clean slate included sophomore Jesse Nunez at 160 and senior heavyweight (285) Aaron Lozano.

“Jesse really gutted out a couple of matches, getting behind early and then finding a way to win,” Prieto said.

Sophomore Peyton Hill, who missed most of last season with a hand injury, posted a 6-1 record at 220 pounds, moving up two weight classes to allow Zeke Herrera to compete at 195, where he went 5-2. Alec Castillo posted a 5-2 record at 138 pounds while Zac Finch was 4-2 at 170 pounds.

In their two pool matches to start Saturday’s schedule, the Buffs slammed Sheridan, Colo., 52-18, and then swept past Ponderosa, 49-16.

“We wanted to see some of the best teams in Colorado, and we were able to do that,” Prieto said. “We saw things that we can come back and work on with our technique. I think we’re farther along in our conditioning than we were a year ago at this time, and I think by exposing some of our weaknesses now, we have a lot more time to work on improving those.”

The Buffs will hit the road once again later this week, heading to Manhattan for a 7 p.m. Friday dual with the Indians, who are coached by former GCHS wrestler Robert Gonzales. They will then compete on Saturday (9 a.m.) at the Clay Center Invitational.