In each of his three years of serving as head wrestling coach at Garden City High School, Carlos Prieto has worked diligently to vary and toughen the schedule for his Buffs’ grapplers.

Never was that more apparent than Friday and Saturday when the two-time defending state Class 6A team champions competed at the Kansas City Stampede in Hale Arena.

In a field of 40 schools, representing Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia, and others, the Buffs placed 19th with a total of 216.5 points. Champion Archer, Ga., scored 593 points.

“Without a doubt, without a doubt, the toughest, most brutal tournament we’ll compete in all year,” Prieto said during a Sunday interview. “You have to look hard to find a lot of positive things to share with the boys because every match is like a state-caliber match.”

During Friday’s pool play matches, the Buffs were barely over .500 collectively, winning 25 matches while losing 23. That set up Saturday’s bracket tournament where the top placers from Friday went into a Gold bracket while the remaining wrestlers were placed into the 16-player Silver bracket.

When Saturday’s final matches concluded, the Buffs had rallied by winning 33 matches while losing 18 and to jump into a top 20 finish for the first time in four years of competing at the Stampede.

“This tournament exposes our weaknesses, but sometimes you’ve got to lose to get better, both as a wrestler and as a person,” Prieto said. After day one, the boys were discouraged, but I think we got better on Saturday and that’s what you look for.”

Tevin Briscoe and Michael Prieto, the Buffs’ two-time state champions, were the team’s highest finishers, with Briscoe placing fifth at 145 pounds by posting an overall 7-1 record while Prieto was sixth at 126 pounds, posting a 7-2 won-loss mark.

“Both Tevin and Michael had outstanding matches,” coach Prieto said. “They both beat some ranked wrestlers from other states, so that’s always a good sign of how good somebody is wrestling.”

Prieto also said he was pleased with sophomore Zeke Herrera, who was 1-3 in pool play, but came back with a 4-0 record in bracket competition on Saturday to place 17th at 195 pounds by beating a pair of wrestlers he lost to on Friday.

Zac Finch went 5-4 for the two days and placed eighth at 170 pounds; Jesse Nunez posted a 6-3 mark and was ninth at 160 pounds for other top 10 finishes.

Freshman Kaj Perez went 6-2 and won the consolation bracket at 106 pounds. Other records and finishes included Sammy Guevara (120, 3-6, 26th); Quinton LaPointe (152, 4-4, 15th); Antonio Perez (182, 4-5, 25th); Benny Hernandez (220, 6-3, 21st); and Aaron Lozano (285, 4-4, 19th).

On Friday, 132-pounder Curtis Near won his first match before suffering an injury and then sat out the remainder of the tournament. The Buffs did not have a 138-pounder as Alec Castillo was still nursing an injury from the offseason.

“The big difference with this tournament as opposed to many we wrestle in during the regular season, is that if you make one little mistake, you’ll pay for it,” coach Prieto said. “In Kansas at most competitions, you can get away with a mistake. Every single match here there’s just no room for error. The boys found that out.”

Coach Prieto said the final pre-holiday tournament would now provide them with a welcomed break until they resume competition on Jan. 3 at the Scottsbluff, Neb. tournament.

“We’re beat up a little and we didn’t come out of this real healthy,” the Buffs’ coach said. “The kids will be able to use the break to rest up, get healed up.”

With high schools precluded from practicing until Dec. 29, both wrestlers and coaches will have some down time to recover.

“All in all, I thought December went well for us,” Prieto said. “Sometimes it doesn’t look as though we’re doing as well as we’d like, but we’re still always doing things with one goal in mind and that is to be ready for late February and win state.”

Once the second half of the season gets under way, the Buffs will be busy — Jan. 10 at Norton; Jan. 16-17 at Newton; Jan. 22 and 27 duals with Liberal and Dodge City; Jan. 30-31, Rocky Welton Invitaitonal.

Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.