There's nothing quite like opening night

By Steve Sell
December 03, 2015

It never gets old.

My two favorite nights of the year are opening night for high school football and high school basketball.

Of course, Friday signals the start of what should be special seasons for the McPherson High basketball teams, but aren’t all of them? This is my 37th opening night in McPherson and I have spent 40 years covering preps overall. Yet, there’s always more of a spring in my step for opening night as even an old dog like me gets excited.

Everybody is 0-0. All teams are dripping with excitement and wondering what the season holds. The stands will be full and the atmosphere will be at a fever pitch.

For McPherson High, I have a feeling I’m going to be writing about a lot of victories and very few losses.

The girls of coach Chris Strathman enter the season ranked No. 2 in Class 4A Division I. They are on a mission after being denied a trip to state last year, only the second time that had happened in Strathman’s 20 years as a head and assistant coach. It just seemed strange last year watching the state tournament without the Bullpups, who might have been the best team left out of the party at Salina. MHS lost in the sub-state finals to Buhler in the final seconds and that sting has carried over to serve as a motivational factor.

The Bullpups have the ingredients to be special. I can’t wait to see the improvement last year’s young players have made, most notably first-team AVCTL picks Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks. From having watched practice a couple of times, it’s evident both have matured greatly from last year, Robertson having grown nearly 3 inches while Cooks has added strength on her graceful 6-0 frame. Strathman has only three seniors and a host of underclassmen who are ready to assume more responsibility.

What I like most about the team is its versatility. While Strathman will send out a first five, it could change depending on the teams the Bullpups play. In reality, given how much Strathman will sub, he could have up to 10 starters. There’s no question MHS will go into every game with a distinct depth advantage.

As for Kurt Kinnamon’s boys, they carry a 40-game winning streak into their opener as they are attempting to 3-peat after compiling a 48-1 record the last two years. Given their graduation hits, they start the season ranked No. 4.

It’s going to seem strange not seeing Kyler Kinnamon directing the offense as he seemingly was around forever. Also, replacing All-Stater Payton Stephens and rugged Nathan Nutter will be no easy task. And MHS will be without Spenser Wine for the first month, including important games at Abilene and Kansas City.

Drew Pyle, one of the state’s top players, will assume much of the leadership. A key will be how well 6-6 sophomores Ben Pyle and Sam Brossard can provide help on the boards. It’s not often MHS ever starts two sophomores, but that will be the case until Wine gets back. It will be interesting to see how well Jacob Loecker and Marcus McDaniel adapt from being key role players off the bench to playing full-blown starters minutes.

A decided advantage for both MHS teams is the coaches on the bench. Strathman and Kinnamon have long been two of the very best and their spots on the MHS Wall of Fame were solidified long ago. I can say without equivocation that their scouting reports on opposing teams are vastly superior to what the opposing coaches have on the Bullpups.

MHS won’t play at home until Dec. 11 and that’s the only home date in the month. The Bullpups have perhaps as loyal of fan base as any school in Kansas and I fully expect to see the Roundhouse close to full for every game this season.

Let the games begin.