Sporting events between McPherson High and Buhler generally feature ear-splitting noise and palpable atmosphere.
But at Jim Baker Field House on Thursday in Buhler, the sound was almost library-like -- unlike Tuesday when you’ll probably need ear plugs when the schools meet on the basketball court in the heart of Crusader Country.
MHS and Buhler were meeting in a wrestling dual, one that would determine whether or not the Bullpups would become outright league champions.
Maybe it was because the outcome basically was known before the match ever started. The Crusaders’ tremendous football success has not transferred over to wrestling recently, as they were open at five weights, giving MHS 30 points before it ever stepped on the mat.
The only question was the final margin, which proved to be 48 as MHS came away with a 60-12 victory.
What it made McPherson coach Doug Kretzer realize, as his team was winning the league title for the third time, but second in the last three years, was just how special wrestling before Bullpup Nation in the Auxiliary Gym is, as it’s always noisy and sometimes steamy since fans are packed into a small space.
“The kids want to wrestle in the Roundhouse,” said Kretzer, whose team did for a while compete in the grand, old arena before moving to the AG for more intimacy. “I tell them, ‘no, you don’t want to wrestle in the Roundhouse.’ That would feel like this (the ambiance at Buhler). It wouldn’t feel like we have that home-crowd advantage. That little aux gym, where there’s not enough seats to fill everyone in there, we’ve got a smart crowd. We’ve got an intelligent wrestling fan base. They can smell it coming, they can see the points before they get there. I don’t take it for granted. I love wrestling at home. I love our home-dual atmosphere. It can be a big score like this and stretched out, but we’re still in every match.”
Kretzer’s team completed a 5-0 blitz through the league and lost only two duals during the regular season. It also has competed well on the biggest stages, including the Newton Tournament of Champions where it finished in the Top 10, which is like a badge of honor. That tournament is the biggest of the year as it’s like a “super state,” as the best teams in Classes 6A, 5A and 4A gather. If you place in the Newton tournament, most likely you’ll be on the award’s stand later this month at state.
This may be Kretzer’s most complete team. Unlike some teams, it fills all weights, even with the spate of injuries that it has endured. A bonus on Thursday was the return of twins Treyton and Tucker Pelnar at the first two weights, who were off to great starts in their freshmen year before being sidelined. They come from quality stock as their father, Tony, is on the Wall of Fame for being a Class 5A state champion back in the day.
The Bullpups are incredibly strong for most of their lineup, as many of their competitors have been ranked. How many go on to place at state is still up in the air, because the Bullpups are in a regional that features a passel of ranked wrestlers. There’s going to be a lot of wrestlers that stay home or could have qualified had they been on the Eastern side of the state.
Kretzer has done a remarkable job as head coach ever since taking over for longtime coach Rich Settle. The Bullpups have produced multiple state champions under his auspices and the numbers out for the sport have grown. And you can greatly thank his efforts for bringing girls wrestling to the forefront, so much so the sport is now officially sanctioned by KSHSAA.
Wrestling is booming in McPherson and has taken its rightful place with the other power sports programs of the school.