By BRETT MARSHALL
Not snow, not wind, not cold temperatures or sleet was going to stop the Garden City Buffaloes wrestling team from getting to their Wichita destination of Hartman Arena in time for Friday’s start of the Class 6A state tournament.
With the Garden City area already pelted by several inches of the wintry weather and more forecast for today, the Buffaloes, along with members of the GCHS bowling teams and band, who are competing Friday in respective regional events in the Wichita area, climbed into USD 457 buses at 9:30 a.m. and headed east.
GCHS first-year coach Carlos Prieto had his team scheduled for a late Wednesday workout at Goddard High School and was planning a similar workout at a yet to be determined site for today before heading to Hartman Arena, located on the north side of Wichita in Park City.
Due to the inclement weather statewide, Kansas State High School Activities Association officials pushed the start time for Friday’s 5A-6A state tournament at Hartman Arena back to noon, a two-hour delay.
For Prieto, though, the early start was not providing any interruption of his No. 1-ranked Buffs in their preparations to pursue the school’s first state championship since legendary coach Rocky Welton’s final team accomplished the feat in 1999.
“I feel like we’re pretty solid, from top to bottom, bottom to top,” Prieto said of his team, which qualified 13 wrestlers in the 14 weight divisions. “I think we’re more solid all the way through than we’ve been in several years. In some years, we’ve been good in the lower weights, other years in the middle weights. This year, I think we’re solid all the way to 220, with everyone having a chance at a medal if they wrestle well.”
The Buffs were preseason ranked No. 1 by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association and they have held the top spot throughout the 2012-13 season. The only team from Kansas that has been able to finish ahead of the Buffs is Arkansas City, and they are ranked No. 1 in Class 5A.
“The boys have worked extremely hard all year,” Prieto said. “We’ve had a meat-grinder schedule, and they’ve performed really well.”
Six of the Buffs’ competitors won regional titles on Saturday at Hutchinson, including 106-pound freshman Michael Prieto, the coach’s son, and sophomore Tevin Briscoe at 132 pounds. Those two have been the consistent mainstays of the Buffs all season, according to coach Prieto.
“I knew Michael had a chance to have a good season, but I am not sure I thought it would be quite this good,” coach Prieto said of his son’s 37-2 record. The only losses for the younger Prieto came at the Kansas City Stampede and in the finals of the Rocky Welton Invitational. “He’s been impressive for a freshman ,and we’re looking for him to give us some early momentum.”
For Briscoe, the season has been an opportunity to reclaim his status as one of the premier wrestlers in his weight class after missing weight at last year’s regional, thus eliminating any chance for a state berth after compiling an impressive freshman record.
“I think Tevin’s proven that he’s one of the best, and we’re looking for good things from him, too,” Prieto said of his sophomore who, is 36-4.
Other regional winners include AJ Hurtado at 138 pounds, who is back to defend his title that he won at 132 pounds a year ago. Hurtado brings a 28-7 mark into the state meet. Trevor Kennedy (Senior, 145 pounds, 31-11), Anthony Gardner (Senior, 170 pounds, 26-8) and Sammy Reyes (Junior, 195 pounds, 28-11) also captured regional titles at Hutchinson.
“I think most people look at wrestling as an individual sport, and part of it is that way,” coach Prieto said. “But with the state meet, it’s a team competition, too. We’re looking forward to getting off to a good start, gathering momentum and then feeding off the success of each other. Win or lose early, it’s important that our kids understand that backside bracket bonus points and pins are important to whether or not we come away with a state championship.”
The biggest team challenges to the Buffs will be No. 2- and No. 3-ranked Junction City and Derby. Defending champion Manhattan qualified 11 wrestlers for the state as did Junction City. Derby, which was runner-up at Hutch to Garden, also qualified 13 wrestlers.
“It’s a three, maybe four-team race,” Prieto said. “Every wrestler is important. We’ve got to go take care of our business, wrestle well and let the results take care of themselves.”
Among the big surprises for Prieto late in the season was freshman Alec Castillo (24-17) qualifying at 126 pounds and senior Samson Aldaco (16-16) earning a spot at 220 pounds.
“Samson’s been riddled with injuries throughout high school,” coach Prieto said. “He’s gutted it out and fought hard, and I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished. Alec has improved tremendously throughout the season. Since day one, he’s worked hard, gotten better, and has a chance to do well and get a medal.”
Other qualifiers for the Buffs include Matt Urrutia (16-5) at 120 pounds; Chris Adler (28-12) at 152 pounds; Zach Finch (26-12) at 160 pounds; and Juan Carlos Rodriguez (15-14) at 182 pounds.
With the schedule delay of two hours, second-round championship matches will begin at approximately 4 p.m., with championship semifinals at about 6 p.m. Saturday’s schedule will remain the same with consolation cross-bracketing starting at 9 a.m., consolation quarterfinals and semifinals at 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Fifth-place matches are slated for 2 p.m., with third-place matches at 3 p.m. Championship matches will begin at approximately 4 to 4:30 p.m.