The preseason fall outlook for the Garden City High School Buffaloes boys’ soccer team was bright.
With a strong contingent of seniors, including record goal-scoring striker Erik Barragan returning, the Buffs of veteran coach Joaquin Padilla had every reason to be optimistic.
And when the Buffs opened first with a victory over Hays High, then with a three-game sweep at the Maize South Invitational to start the season, confidence was high.
The Buffs would go on to finish the 2014 campaign by advancing all the way to the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A playoffs, only to see their season grounded by the Wichita East Blue Aces in a 3-2 loss at East.
The success of the Buffs’ season, which saw them finish with a 14-5-0 record, provided them with the No. 10 Telegram Sports Story for 2014.
“It was very good season for us,” Padilla said following the team’s elimination from the playoffs. “We made it past the second round for the first time in nearly 10 years (2006), so there was some progress in how we played. We’ll just come back next year and try again.”
The Buffs’ offense was led by the cat-quick Barragan, who established school scoring records. His career of 72 goals in his final three years saw him tally 19 goals as a sophomore, 26 as a junior and 27 as a senior.
Barragan was honored in the postseason as a first team all-stater as voted on by the Kansas Soccer Coaches Association while teammate Esteban Neave was a second-team selection as a defender.
Barragan and senior teammate David Amaro earned all-Western Athletic Conference honors and the Buffs finished in third place behind co-champions Dodge City and Liberal.
Amaro in many ways was just as valuable to the Buffs’ success as he registered 12 goals and then accounted for 19 assists, tops on the team. Freshman Alex Morales was second in goals scored with 14 while senior Luis Carmona, who transferred to GCHS, had 5 goals and 11 assists. In all, eight different players scored two or more goals.
Senior goalkeeper Israel Reyes also excelled in net for the Buffs, giving up an average of 1.26 goals per game.
One impressive statistic is that Barragan scored more goals than the Buffs gave up all season.
In all five losses during the season, the Buffs lost by the narrowest of margins — one goal. Twice they lost by a single goal to Liberal (3-2 and 2-1), they dropped a 4-3 double-overtime decision to rival Dodge City but then beat the Red Demons 2-1 at home.
In the prestigious Wichita North Cup late in the season, the Buffs faced Wichita East in the semifinals, coming up on the short end of a 1-0 decision. Just three weeks later, on East’s home turf, the same Aces team brought an end to the Buffs outstanding season.
Barragan was honored in November as The Telegram’s Fall Sports Athlete of the Year, and he perhaps put the team’s season in perspective.
“I’ve had some amazing accomplishments, but I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, and without my teammates,” Barragan said. “They kept pushing me, and pushing me to work hard and improve. They kept telling me to keep working hard, and what I needed to do to get better.”