NORTH NEWTON — In theory, it was a great idea.
In execution, it’s an idea whose time is apparently over.
Thursday at Bethel College’s Thresher Gymnasium was the AVCTL Winter Media Day, or night in this case since it started at 6:30. It was a conclave of all four divisions of the expansive league, with all coaches and selected players supposedly on hand for interviews and information gathering.
Instead, nearly a half-dozen schools opted out from attending, including two in AVCTL Division III that I wanted to glean information from, Augusta and Winfield. There also wasn’t a lot of media on hand, which led to a lot of bored students standing around trying to find ways to keep themselves entertained while opposing coaches chatted about the upcoming season.
One official told me this could be the final time the event is held as participation has been steadily dwindling.
Nevertheless, with Monday being the first day of winter sports practices, I was able to talk with McPherson High’s coaches. Here’s a capsule of what to expect this winter:
• Girls basketball —The Bullpups will be fueled by last year’s sub-state championship game disappointment against Buhler, a last-second loss on a highly questionable foul call at the end.
The Bullpups were 17-5 last year and shared the Division III title with Buhler, which basically returns All-Stater Jessica Steffen and some spare change.
MHS lost three valuable seniors in Madison Hoffman, Cassidy Wedel and Bri Cooks. Hoffman and Wedel were honorable mention AVCTL last year.
But the good news is the Bullpups are loaded with eight players who saw considerable time last year, highlighted by first-team D-III picks Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks. Robertson has shot up 3 inches to 5-9 and Cooks has added considerable strength to her 6-0 frame.
Coach Chris Strathman will tinker during the preseason as he can put several different combinations on the floor, depending on the opponent.
• Boys basketball — Kurt Kinnamon has guided MHS to back-to-back state championships and a 48-1 record. It currently is riding a 40-game winning streak.
It’s probably unrealistic for the Bullpups to go 25-0 this year, considering they must replace All-State players Kyler Kinnamon and Payton Stephens, as well as unsung Nathan Nutter.
Drew Pyle and Spenser Wine are returning starters, though Wine is out until January as he recovers from his second shoulder surgery in as many years. Top subs Ben Pyle, Jacob Loecker and Marcus McDaniel also return and should transition into the starting lineup.
Kinnamon’s depth was sapped somewhat by some unexpected attrition, so he’s going to have some unproven players who’ll be counted on for important minutes.
• Wrestling — Doug Kretzer is excited that he’ll have more numbers than normal working in the practice room.
When you talk Bullpups, it starts with Austin Eldredge, who was 39-2 and third in the state last year at 106.
He’s the only returning state placer, but Kretzer believes he’ll have more matmen in the hunt this year.
Keep an eye on Kaleb Jost and Ty Goss at 182 and heavyweight, respectively. Goss is 6-7 and will wrestle right at the 285 limit, which makes him a nightmare matchup for opponents. Cole Kretzer, like Jost and Goss a senior, is looking to up his 16 wins of last year.
Doug Kretzer says his team can’t use youth as an excuse this year, as many of his expected starters will be entering their third or second year as regulars.
• Boys swimming – Matt Morrow, in his second year, is expecting 21 candidates to report, which would be the largest number in years for the Bullpups.
Eric Gaeddert is the headline performer as he met state standards in eight events, placing 7th and 12th at state in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, respectively.
Also back after competing at state are Spencer Steinert, Max Howe, Gavin Soukup, Jori Van Goethem and Carson Stone.
Morrow said a goal is to get at least two or three swimmers to make it to the final Saturday of the season, which is the finals and consolation rounds at state.
• Bowling — Herb Halinski’s programs have been remarkably consistent as it’s hard to believe this is year No. 9 since it seems like only yesterday they were in the start-up stages.
The boys’ team, seventh at state last year, has a trio that can match any in the state in Carl Frazier, Jeff Reed and Clayton Ouellette. With KC Becker, Kolton Lare, Talin Gobel and Michael Polasek expected to improve, Halinski should have a deep team.
The girls, fourth at state last year, took a huge graduation hit, but return Bailey Holton, Ashley LaSalle and Alexis Kieffer.