It's going to feel like the second week of March on Tuesday.
In two of the most highly anticipated basketball games in Kansas this season, McPherson High travels to Abilene for matchups of schools that hope to be playing in Salina on the final Saturday of the season.
Tipoff is 6 p.m. for the girls and approximately 7:30 for the boys. Join Chris Swick for the play-by-play on 96.7 KBBE-FM beginning with the pre-game show at 5:40.
Both the MHS and Abilene girls have rocketed to 3-0 starts and neither has been taken deep into a game in terms of competitiveness.
“Abilene has some nice weapons that are hard to defend, primarily their point guard (Cara) Donley and their post player (Belle) Barbieri,” MHS coach Chris Strathman said. “Both are very good at what they do. They are complemented by some pretty good shooters on the perimeter who can help space the floor for their two best, so we really have our hands full with this matchup. All five starters return and they are in their second year with this coach, so they are very comfortable with who they are as a group.”
The Cowgirls, 16-6 last year, are coming off a 73-35 demolition of AVCTL Division III member Augusta. They poured in 45 first-half points and never relented. Barbieri scored 25 points and Donley 16, while Jessica Hayes furnished 10 for good measure.
The Cowgirls have a lot of size in the 6-0 Barbieri, 5-10 Hayes and 5-10 Ashley Collette, while the 5-6 Donley and 5-6 Hannah Funston, who shot it well in last year’s meeting, keep defenses honest with their outside sniping.
Most of all, Strathman said, the Bullpups have to come out with some purpose and not let Abilene dictate the tempo and feed off its crowd.
“Abilene is a tough place to play, but our girls will be ready,” Strathman said. “We must bring a high level of energy to floor on Tuesday.”
Last year's game went MHS' way, 68-54. Taylor Robertson scored 19, the graduated Cassidy Wedel had her best game of the year with 14 and Emma Yowell chipped in with 10.
Meanwhile the Abilene boys, who actually started the year ranked ahead of the two-time defending champion Bullpups, have had a surprisingly slow start to their season. They were stunned by Rock Creek in Game 2 and then were taken into overtime on Friday by unheralded Augusta before prevailing, 63-62.
But that may have been a case of the Cowboys looking ahead to Tuesday. The last time the teams met in Abilene in the second round of the 2013 sub-state, Abilene overcame an early 17-3 deficit to stun the Bullpups and then took out Hesston in the title game to advance.
"We are looking forward to the challenge of playing a highly ranked team," MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said. "They play a lot of zone defense, so we are going to need to play inside-out. Because of their size, we have a need to really attack and make them guard."
Like the Cowgirls, the Cowboys return a wealth of experience off last year’s 18-4 team as starters Harley Hazlett, Eric Harms, Ryan Wilson and Andrew Schwarting are experienced hands. With Harms at 6-8 and Hazlett at 6-4, they have the height to combat the tall and long-armed Bullpups, whose length on defense totally throttled Winfield 83-28 on Friday.
"They have three really good players, Wilson, Harms and Hazlett," Kinnamon said. "The rest of their guys do a good job of playing to their strengths. They shoot the ball well."
Hazlett and Harms had their way inside against Augusta with 18 and 14 points, respectively, while Schwarting took care of the outside work with 15.
Last year, the Bullpups jumped all over Abilene early in what turned out to be one of their best games of the year as they routed the Cowboys, 82-56. Drew Pyle scored 22, and the departed Kyler Kinnamon and Nathan Nutter scored 17 and 12, respectively.
Kinnamon said he'll be interested to see how his team reacts in a hostile environment as Abilene is sure to pack the house, though a good contingent of Bullpups fans will surely make the hour drive.