Buffalo volleyball splits matches in WAC triangular

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's MiKayla Martinez, left, and Mackenzie Lucas combine to block a Liberal shot Thursday during a match in a Western Athletic Conference volleyball triangular at GCHS.

With a young and inexperienced team, and the end of a grueling first week’s schedule of the 2021 season, Garden City High School volleyball Coach Trista Bailey knew that the Thursday night matches at The Garden with Western Athletic Conference opponents Liberal and Great Bend would likely be a grind.

She was exactly spot on as the Buffs first eked out a three-set heart-stopper victory over Liberal’s Reds, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, but then a little more than an hour later, hit the fatigue factor and came up on the short end of a 16-25, 9-25 setback to Great Bend’s Panthers, the preseason No. 9-ranked Class 5A team.

“To be honest, it’s been a long week for these kids,” Bailey said afterward. “We played Saturday (4 matches), Tuesday (2 matches against 5A ranked teams) and tonight (2 matches). They’ve had so much experience in these last matches. There are a lot of good things to take away from it. They all are still being super coachable. We kind of put them in the ringer. It’s all in preparation for what’s to come and they believe that, and they’ll be a group that will work through it.”

Garden City High School's Kamdyn Carr goes up for a kill against Liberal Thursday during a match in a volleyball triangular at GCHS.

Looking at the Thursday matches, Bailey said she saw many good things throughout the Liberal match to see continued improvement in several areas and with a number of the players. The Great Bend setback, though, was likely just the mental and physical gas tank being empty at the end of a long, long week.

“I know we’ve had some success in the WAC in the past (10 straight WAC Championships), so obviously losing is never fun,” Bailey said. “But we’d be crazy to think that teams weren’t going to compete and show up and do great things. That’s part of what makes winning WAC and being part of WAC so much fun because we have these teams that will challenge us and at the end of the day, that’s what we want.”

It’s the first week of September now, and the WAC tournament is more than a month away, so Bailey believes her all-new starting lineup and mostly new roster will continue to grow over the busy first month of the campaign.

“That’s what we’ve talked about,” Bailey said about the team’s growth early in the schedule. “We’ll see where we are on Oct. 2 and I don’t think it will be the same as it is now. These girls believe in each other and we believe in them.”

In the opening match against Liberal, the first set was wild and crazy, a see-saw affair that saw the Buffs open with a 6-3 lead, only to see Liberal respond to tie the set at 6, 7, 8 and 9. From there, it was trading points, literally back and forth, until the Buffs secured a 22-20 lead. Then, the Lady Reds responded by winning four of the next five points to tie the set at 23-all. The Buffs, however, came up with two big points to squeak out the 25-23 win.

Set No. 2 wasn’t quite as back-and-forth as Liberal took the early lead and most held that throughout. Liberal extended an 11-10 lead to 16-11 only to have the Buffs rally to close to within 17-18, but three straight points by the Reds gave the visitors a 21-17 lead. The Buffs could get no closer than two at 20-22, and then the set was won out as Liberal won three of the final four points, 25-21, to even the match.

Garden City High School's Jesy Foster digs a save off a Liberal shot Thursday in a match during a volleyball triangular at GCHS.

The third and deciding match was much like Set 1; back and forth the teams went with Liberal leading early 4-1 and again at 11-8. The Buffs finally knotted the score at 15-all and but didn’t take the lead for good until it was 22-21. Another point tacked on and Garden City won two of the final three points to close out the match, 25-23.

“We showed a lot of fight in that match,” Bailey said. “We were still making some mistakes, but we also played some really good points, extending them more than we had earlier in the week.”

The Buffs had about an hour to wait for their showdown with Great Bend, last year’s WAC runner-up, but things hardly went their way against the Panthers.

From the outset, though, things never got untracked for the Buffs, falling behind in Set 1 at 5-10 and never recovered, dropping the opening set 16-25. Only winning two consecutive points one time to make it 16-21, the Buffs saw Great Bend close out with four straight points. Set 2 was not any better as the youthful home team just finally hit the proverbial wall of a long week.

When they trailed 1-8, Bailey called a timeout. Another timeout midway through at 7-17 didn’t change the momentum garnered by Great Bend. The Panthers simply kept the pressure on and won out with an 8-2 closing run.

In the middle match of the evening, Great Bend won a tough three-set marathon from Liberal by scores of 24-26, 25-20, 25-22.

Bailey’s squad will get a chance to gain some rest, have a week of practices to prepare for their next match, a home dual against Lamar, Colo., on Sept. 9. The match will begin at 5 p.m. with the junior varsity and the varsity to follow at 6:30 p.m. at The Garden. The Buffaloes are now 2-6.