There’s always a feel good story when high school sports come to the end of another season.
Postseason brings surprises — smiles and celebrations, tears and heartbreaks.
When the Garden City Buffaloes begin their team title quest on Friday in the Class 6A state tournament at Hartman Arena in Park City, they will do so with one of the feel good stories of the 2017-18 season.
Jonathan Fernandez will be on the mat, competing at 182 pounds.
He enters his first state tournament appearance with a modest 6-6 record, unranked and likely overlooked.
But don’t tell the Buffs senior that he might not find his way onto the medal stand late Saturday when the tournament concludes its two-day run.
He may well be the most unlikely 182-pounder in the 16-competitor bracket, and that’s because he weighs in at just 165 pounds.
That’s right — 165 pounds. He’s two weights under the division in which he competes.
“It’s been an amazing week, and I just want to finish it off by winning a medal and getting my picture up on (The Wall),” Fernandez said Wednesday as he and his GCHS teammates prepare to embark on their trip to Wichita for Friday’s opening day of the state tourney.
“When coach (Carlos Prieto) asked me about competing at 182, I at first didn’t want to do it because of the weight difference,” Fernandez said. “But then I thought I got nothing to lose so I just decided to do it.”
At the regional last Friday and Saturday, Fernandez won three matches and lost three and placed sixth (eight qualified). He even knocked off a No. 5-ranked Topeka High wrestler en route to his medal finish.
“I think what I found out is that I’m quicker because I’m lighter,” Fernandez said. “It gives me an advantage. I’m just trying to get quick takedowns, score some early points, then take the down position, get an escape and get enough points to win.”
Fernandez is just one of two seniors on the 12-man roster that qualified for the state tourney. The other is Kaj Perez at 132 pounds. And there’s only one junior — Andrew Garcia at 138 pounds.
The rest of the young corps are sophomores (six) and freshmen (three). It will be the youngest team the Buffs have sent to the state in recent memory.
Assistant head coach Paul Lappin, who is subbing in for head coach Carlos Prieto, who is recovering from an illness and won’t be attending the state meet, said that he is pleased with where the team has progressed heading to the final meet of the season.
“Our goal is always to win state,” said Lappin of the Buffs’ four-peat from 2013 to 2016, and a third-place finish in 2017. “I think with as young as we are, if we’re able to bring home a trophy (1st, 2nd or 3rd), we’d be very happy.”
The Buffs placed fourth at the regional last week, finishing behind three teams that ranked ahead of them in the latest KWCA rankings (Garden 5). That group includes Derby (1), Topeka-Washburn Rural (3) and defending champion Manhattan (4). Olathe North is ranked No. 2.
“We’ve refined a lot of things, and I’m excited to see how they perform,” Lappin said. “We’ve made big strides since the end of January.”
Lappin said that he believes the Buffs are capable of winning all of their first-round matches, which would place them into the quarterfinals, one match away from getting to the medal stand.
“If we have the kind of round we did Saturday (winning eight matches in consolation, followed by winning another eight in the next round), then we’re going to be in good shape,” Lappin said. “As always, it’s a tough tournament. But we’ve wrestled in some tough tournaments already so the kids won’t be intimidated by it.”
Of the 12 GCHS wrestlers, five are currently ranked by the KWCA. That group includes Silas Pineda at 113 (3rd), Diago Hernandez at 120 (6th); defending state champion Jacob Holt at 126 (2nd; he won at 113 pounds a year ago); Trey Medina at 152 (5th), Alex Rodriguez at 170 (6th) and Refugio Chairez at 285 (6th). All are underclassmen.
Holcomb’s lone entrants at the Class 4A state tournament in Salina are seniors Tanner Johnson (170) and Chance Rodriguez (182), and both are ranked among the best in their divisions.
Johnson is currently ranked fifth while Rodriguez is ranked third. Johnson enters the state tournament with a 32-8 record while Rodriguez is 32-3.
Two Ulysses wrestlers and one from Hugoton round out the area’s competitors in 4A.
The Tigers are represented by Juan Urbina (23-13) at 132 pounds and Juan Carlos Terrazas (26-15) at 138 pounds. Hugoton’s lone entrant is Braden Slemp (23-5) at 152 pounds.
Scott City’s Beavers will be among the team favorites, along with Smith Center, Hoisington and Rossville, when the Class 3-2-1A tournament gets under way Friday at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.
The Beavers have six qualifiers, including four who are ranked by the KWCA — Justus McDaniel (126), Kaden Wren (132), Jarret Jurgens (160) and Wyatt Hayes (170) — and coach Jon Lippelman is eager to see how his team will perform now that they are back to 3-2-1A after a year at 4A.
“We’re fortunate to have a good number of the kids with experience at the state,” Lippelman said earlier this week.
But the Beavers, while the only likely contender for team honors, are not the lone school in the area having individual title contenders in the small class.
Cimarron’s Josh Seabolt, who won the 182-pound division a year ago, is ranked No. 1 at 195 pounds and is unbeaten this season. He is joined by teammates Braiden Lynn (120) and Dylan Newton (182) in representing the Bluejays.
Lakin has two state-ranked wrestlers who will contend in senior Johhney Perez (145, 4th) and sophomore Hadley Panzer (285, 2nd).
Wichita County’s lone representative will be Joaquin Castillo at 138 pounds.
There will be three rounds of championship bracket matches, with semifinals scheduled for early evening at all three championship sites.
The tournaments conclude Saturday.
Contact Brett Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org