The road to Emporia begins tonight for the McPherson High girls.
Even after losing Division I signees Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks following last year’s Class 4A Division I state championship, the Bullpups have maintained their lofty standards as they try to step up in class and snare the 5A title.
MHS enters tonight’s sub-state opening game with Andover riding a 16-game winning streak and is 18-1 overall. The only loss was in the third game of the season to arguably the best team in all the land, current 6A champion Derby, which shows no signs of giving up its crown.
It hasn’t been all lollipops and rainbows for the Bullpups, however. Longtime coach Chris Strathman was sidelined the first six games recovering from surgery for colon cancer and thankfully received a clean bill of health. Interim coach Mike Reith guided the team to a 5-1 record in his absence.
Back-up guard Emma Malm was lost for the year with a foot injury and missed February, and then late in season four-year standout Riley Hett suffered a broken hand that ended her season. Hett was the team’s emotional lightning rod, playing with unmatched verve and also was the team’s defensive stopper, always drawing the opposing team’s top-scoring perimeter player.
The Bullpups, however, have persevered. They don’t have the instant offense of the amazing Robertson, who could score 30 on any given night. They also don’t have Cooks to protect the rim and unlike many of the top teams, they don’t have a lot of size as Maggie Leaf, Cassie Cooks and Megan Eisenbarth rotate in the post despite being undersized.
But this Bullpup team is breathtakingly athletic and plays at a faster tempo than last year. It’s an aberration when a player scores 20 points, as balance is the key. There have been many games where the Bullpups have had five players score between 8 and 12 points as they share the wealth.
Point guard Lakyn Schieferecke is probably the player the Bullpups need most on the floor. She runs the offense and plays with considerable calm. She can shoot the 3 and is the player the Bullpups want at the foul line when the chips are down.
Grace Pyle and Emma Ruddle are simply tremendous athletes with their ability to run and jump. When they’re at the top of the defense just over midcourt, they cause nightmares for opposing teams. They’re long and skilled and their defense is their best offense. Pyle and Ruddle also are long-range snipers as the 3-ball is such an integral part of the offense.
Unsung Hannah Hageman does so many things that seldom show up in the scorebook, but her defense and solid 3-point shooting are so important. Andrea Sweat is one of the most versatile Bullpups as she can play all five spots on the floor.
Leaf, Cooks and Eisenbarth provide rebounding and defense, while Cooks can be an offensive presence as well.
Jaycee Burghart and Kassidy Beam are also important off the bench as they’re players good enough to start for other teams and can make the 3.
It won’t be easy for the Bullpups to make it to state, but they have a style that eventually wears teams down. Andover will be no bargain tonight since Shanti Henry (who averages 14.5 points a game) is a dynamic player and it also has some size inside. Should the Bullpups win tonight, Carroll or Newton would be next and both are highly capable.