Chris Strathman could have eased back into the coaching saddle with a little easier game.
After being sidelined a month due to successful colon cancer surgery, Strathman makes his return to the sidelines tonight when McPherson High hosts Circle in one of the highlight games in Kansas.
It’s not often the Bullpups go into a game with a lesser record, but that’s the case tonight as the T-Birds invade the Roundhouse with a sparkling 6-0 mark compared to MHS’ 5-1, though its blemish came against perhaps the best team in all the land in No. 1 Derby, which has shown no signs of slowing down.
I know there are still some fans that when they hear “Circle,” they have the stigma of a 2A-sized school because when the Bullpups travel to Towanda to play the T-Birds, it’s a town with only a few stoplights.
But on the girls’ side, these T-Birds can really play. They’ve been state-worthy the last couple of years and this is thought to be the year they have most looked forward to as they’re loaded with seniors, including Carissa Beck, Alyson Potter, Kelsie Kelly and Raegen Galloway.
The T-Birds have more size than MHS has had to combat all year with the 6-1 Galloway, 6-1 Potter and 6-1 Mallory Cowman. The Bullpups, on the other hand, have just one 6-footer in Andrea Sweat, who is more of a perimeter player due to her skillset.
Last year when the teams met for the first time the hype was off the charts, but the Bullpups unloaded for a 62-37 road victory over the then-undefeated T-Birds and the rematch wasn’t any better for Circle as MHS ran away to a 61-31 victory. Still, the T-Birds advanced to state, where they lost to Miege in the first round.
Circle certainly learned from those games. It will be relieved that Taylor Robertson is no longer wearing the Red and White as it had no answer for her.
I think the key is the start. At home, the Bullpups have been synonymous with fast starts, often from 3-point land. I’m sure the T-Bird game plan is to stay close early because if MHS comes out burying treys, Circle’s riding-high confidence that it currently carries will be similar to a balloon with the air going out.
The Bullpups certainly have had to adjust to the post Taylor-Mandi era as early on they struggled on the offensive end. But in the three games leading up to the break, the 3-point shooting picked up and the Bullpups looked like their old selves, though Dodge City — to its credit — never went away as it scored more points on MHS than any other team, including Derby.
This is still a Bullpup team that hangs its hat on balance and defense, though against Dodge City juniors Lakyn Schieferecke and Emma Ruddle assumed more of a dominating scoring role with 21 points apiece. Generally, however, MHS is at its best when three or four players are scoring in double figures.
MHS has no bargain on Tuesday at Augusta, but other than the Mid America Classic, there doesn’t seem to be too many potholes left on the schedule, except for Class 4A power Baldwin Feb. 16 in Lawrence. The Bulldogs are right behind Circle in the 4A rankings.
It feel like a month since MHS has been at home, so I would expect a good turnout for what should be two competitive games.