Provided that McPherson High stays at Class 5A, expectations will be high that the Bullpup girls will make a return trip to Emporia’s White Auditorium next year.
McPherson High was hoping to end the year with tears of joy by winning its second straight state championship, but they turned to tears of sadness as the repeat attempt ended with a heart-breaking semifinal loss on Friday to perhaps McPherson’s new Bishop Miege, the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints.
The Saints, of course, went on to win their fourth straight state title on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bullpups played youthful Kansas City Schlagle for third place and came out playing their best basketball of the year. They rained 8 3-pointers in the first half and were having a rollicking good time with a 40-28 halftime lead.
But the Stallions were a different team in the second half. They ditched their full-of-holes zone and the Bullpups’ offense became mired in an array of missed shots and turnovers. Schlagle took advantage of its quickness and athleticism to rally for a 60-56 victory to claim the third-place plaque.
Having spent the entire tournament at Emporia, I still believe the Bullpups were the second-best team there. While Blue Valley Southwest played St. Thomas Aquinas tough for a half on Saturday in the title game, the second half turned into a Saints runaway.
Tip your hat to Schlagle. It made many more shots than the previous two days and has a core of young players that makes it one of the teams to beat next year. Aquinas will certainly be there, but it must replace three important seniors that made up half of its rotation, but knowing the program’s tradition there will be capable replacements.
As for the Bullpups, I expect another banner season.
Coach Chris Strathman has to replace a five-member senior class that will go down as one of the best to come through. Riley Hett, Hannah Hageman and Maggie Leaf were starters this year, and Hett and Hageman were longtime staples. I still wonder how the state tournament would have played out had Hett been available.
Jaycee Burghart and Megan Eisenbarth were contributors off the bench and provided the quality competition in practice that made the starters better.
This was a group that starred both on and off the court as all five are going to be named to the All-KBCA Academic Team. You take their class ranks and add them together and it totals only 31, which is remarkable.
Next year looks exciting though. MHS returns its top three scorers in Grace Pyle, Lakyn Schieferecke and Emma Ruddle. Pyle was the top scorer in the state tournament and emerged the latter stages of the season. Schieferecke was the team’s most indispensable player and is primed for a big senior year. Ruddle, I believe, will take the next step next year due to being just so crazy athletic.
There are two spots open. Cassie Cooks is a cinch as she’s started off-and-on each of the last two years and had an excellent state tournament. Andrea Sweat is most likely to round out the lineup and she’s the player I believe could make the biggest jump next year as she has all the skills, she’s just had players in front of her.
Kassidy Beam is going to figure prominently as she’s a deadly 3-point shooter and a big hope is that Emma Malm will overcome her injuries and be 100 percent next year.
There’s an undefeated ninth-grade class moving up. While there are no Taylor Robertsons in the group, they play well together and are deep. They will provide depth and it will be interesting to see which of those players elevates their game as a sophomore as much depends on how much offseason work is put in.
While 5A will be loaded again next year, the Bullpups will certainly have the talent to be playing on the final Saturday.