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Kansans highlight Garden City Community College signing class

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Hiltz signs four from Garden City, one from Dodge City for 2020 class

  • Garden City seniors (from left) Remi Vargas, Kelbi Richter and Reagan Karlin are three of the six Kansans who make up the 2020 Garden City Community College Volleyball Signing Class. (Photo by Adam Shrimplin, Shrimplin Photography)
    Garden City seniors (from left) Remi Vargas, Kelbi Richter and Reagan Karlin are three of the six Kansans who make up the 2020 Garden City Community College Volleyball Signing Class. (Photo by Adam Shrimplin, Shrimplin Photography)

GARDEN CITY – The volleyball program that Patrick Hiltz hopes to build at Garden City Community College will first and foremost start with recruiting local and regional Kansas players who he feels will be a good fit for his Lady Broncbuster team.

That was never more evident than in Hiltz’s recent announcement of his true first recruiting class at GCCC with the signing of six Kansas players, four of whom are from Garden City High School and one from Dodge City High School, which sits an hour east of the GCCC campus. The sixth hails from the south central Kansas school of Winfield.

“I don’t like big cities and I’m too social for a really small town, and Garden City is just the right fit for me, and that’s the kind of kids I want to have come and play here,” Hiltz said. “I know what I want and I want them to know that I’m available to them to help them with the college career and academic pursuits.”
Highlighting the overall class of nine players is 6-foot-1-inch outside hitter Reagan Karlin of Garden City. Karlin is a three-time Class 6A first-team All-State selection by the Kansas Volleyball Coaches Association and helped her Lady Buffaloes team to four consecutive state tournament appearances and a 33-5 record in her senior season of 2019.

She will be joined by former high school teammates Remi Vargas, a setter, and a three-time all-Western Athletic Conference selection and WAC Player of the Year in 2019; libero Kelbi Richter and outside hitter Alli Meng. The Dodge City signee is Sara Ramirez, a middle blocker; while Emmah Sultz, a setter, hails from Winfield.

Joining that group will be Alandra LaCaze, a middle blocker from Monroe, La., Tauja Durham, an outside hitter who played at Fountain Ft. Carson High School in Fountain, Colo., and Australian native Jesse Lawton, who has played both the libero and setter positions.

“Obviously, the goal is to get better each year,” said Hiltz, who guided the Lady Busters to a 7-29 record in 2019 after the program had gone 0-31 the year before his arrival. “We want to find players who will make us better at each position. It’s important to recruit players who are nearby because I believe it gives you a sense of great regional representation, and I’m very excited about what this group will bring and what they can accomplish.”

Hiltz’s first assignment last year was to get acquainted with local, area and regional high school coaches and did so by visiting many of those schools.

“I contacted as many area and regional coaches as possible,” Hiltz recalled. “Schools in this area will not always have players who can play at the highest levels, but perhaps they are a good fit for us. I want them (coaches, players) to know who we are. So far, luckily enough, we’re making inroads.”

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The biggest plum in the recruiting class is Garden City’s Karlin. 

A powerful outside hitter, Karlin was a three-time Class 6A first-team All-Stater and finished her four-year career with more than 1,000 kills. She also finished with 782 career digs. The Lady Buffs were ranked among the top five teams in 2019 and were the No. 1 seed at the 6A state tourney. 

“She’s a special player, but people have known that about her for a long time,” Hiltz said of Karlin. “The trick for us is to help her out so she’s not taking on all the load. I’m sure there are reasons for her decision to stay here and we’re excited about it.”

Karlin had been an early commit during her sophomore season to Division I Creighton, one of the top 20 programs in the country. Shen then had signed her NCAA letter-of-intent with the Lady Bluejays in mid-November, 2019, so her change of heart came after the first semester concluded. Karlin signed her NJCAA letter with the Lady Busters on March 23.

“After a lot of thought, I felt it would be really good to stay and work on being more prepared to play at that high level,” Karlin said in a recent telephone interview during the social distancing practice to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. “After talking to the Creighton coach (Kirsten Booth), we thought it would be good to stay here and work on certain aspects of my game to improve.”

Karlin said that her decision was evolutionary as she begin considering it back in January and early February.  

“I thought I’d have more 1-on-1 time here and get more specialized training,” Karlin said. “It opens up my recruiting and it gives me more time to think about the future.”

Another part of the process was hear attending winter workouts conducted by Hiltz with the club volleyball squad in Garden City.

“There more I watched, the more I realized Coach Hiltz knows so much about the game,” Karlin said of the GCCC coach. “I know he’ll get us where we want to be and he’ll help us find out what our plans are. In many ways, he reminds me of the coaching style of Coach (Trista) Bailey (Garden City HS coach). Their styles of coaching are similar and I think that will be a big plus for those of us who played there.”

Karlin said she has already been in communication with some of her “new” teammates, using texting, FaceTime and Skype to get acquainted with her out-of-state and international teammates. 

“I’ve talked to some of them and Jesse (Lawton) sent me one of her tapes, so we’re getting to know each other already,” Karlin said. “The biggest part I think for me is that I’ll be playing with a lot of the girls that I’ve grown up with. We know each other, we know how we play together. I think it’s a great way to represent the community and get them more involved with the program at the college.”

Hiltz is just happy that a player of Karlin’s caliber changed her mind and decided to play at home in front of family, friends and former classmates.

“I know she’s been very close to Remi (Vargas) and the others, and they’ve played together for many years,” Hiltz said. “There’s some of those ties and then we were able to sign Alli, then Kelbi and Remi. I think the idea blossomed that she could stay close, play with some of her best friends and give this a year to see what level she really will be ready for after. Honestly, I think the stars just aligned for us.”

While getting Karlin is the big prize, Hiltz quickly said he’s thrilled with the rest of his in-state freshman recruits.

“Remi, Alli and Kelbi all have played with Reagan and have been part of a winning program,” Hiltz said. “Sara was the best player on Dodge City’s team and Sultz was my first recruit. She’s a good athlete and will compete.”

And there is the out-of-state and international recruits to round out this stellar class, Hiltz indicated.

LaCaze is a middle blocker, Durham an outside hitter and Lawson a setter.

“Each of these brings something different to our team,” Hiltz said. “They all fit the type of player and the type of person I want in our program. It’s certainly going to be exciting to see them come together and then mold them into a solid volleyball team.”

Hiltz big recruiting class was to fill a big roster void as he returns only two sophomores for the fall 2020 season – defensive specialist Summer Nerkowski (5-6) of Emory, Texas, and outside hitter Angel Sherman (5-7) of Ft. Worth, Texas.

“I’m appreciative of all the local, regional coaches in Kansas who allowed me into their gyms to get acquainted with their players,” Hiltz said. “It let the kids see me. I didn’t recruit some of these kids early, but as time went on there was more interest from them and more interest from me. Reagan had come to some of the open gyms and I think the idea (of signing at GCCC) just blossomed.”

Garden City Community College 2020 Volleyball Recruiting Class

Kelbi Richter, Garden City High School, 5-6, Defensive specialist
Remi Vargas, Garden City High School, 5-3, Setter
Alli Meng, Garden City High School, 5-10, Outside hitter
Reagan Karlin, Garden City High School, 6-1, Outside hitter
Sara Ramirez, Dodge City High School, 5-10, Middle blocker
Emma Sultz, Winfield High School, 5-4, Setter
Tauja Durham, Fountain Ft. Carson High School, Colo., 5-10, Outside hitter
Jesse Lawton, Newborough, Victoria, Australia, 5-6, Setter
Alandra LaCaze, West Monroe, La., 5-10, Middle blocker

Brett Marshall is a retired sports writer living in Garden City, Kansas. He has enjoyed a 20-year career covering high school sports while working on newspapers in Fort Scott, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Salina and Garden City.

This feature was produced in conjunction with long-time Kansas Pregame sponsor Garden City Community College. 

Garden City Community College provides the diverse southwest Kansas communities and region with an excellent educational experience that fosters social responsibility and prepares students for personal and academic success. Established in 1919, Garden City Community College has a rich tradition providing the students, local community, region and state with high quality, affordable higher education and workforce training.

Garden City Community College is proud of the highly qualified faculty, staff and administrators whose passion and dedication is to focus on students and providing an engaging and positive learning experience. Whether you are starting a new career, enhancing academic skills or preparing to transfer to a four-year university, Garden City Community College is the right choice to help meet your goals.

For more information visit the Garden City Community College website at