The last time McPherson High’s girls were so thin in their upper two classes, the result was a state championship.
That was in 2012 when MHS had just two seniors in Tanner Hein and Ashton Bruner. And there were only three juniors, though one of them was Kansas Player of the Year Katelyn Loecker and another was Hailey Ruder, both of whom were staples from the time they were freshmen.
The 2016-17 team has nearly the same configuration, as the only two seniors are Jordan Bruner and Emma Yowell, while Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks are the only juniors.
Another state championship? Only time will tell.
After Week 1 of practice, though, veteran Bullpup coach Chris Strathman has been happy with the progress, although he has some of the smallest numbers he’s ever dealt with as only 21 players make up the four classes.
“I’ve impressed with our versatility,” said Strathman, who has a couple of state championships under his belt as he enters his 12th year. “We don’t have a lot of size, but we’ll have the ability to score inside and definitely the ability to score outside.”
To the rescue is a deep sophomore class and there may be as many as seven competing for varsity spots. And while it’s a somewhat slim freshman class in terms of numbers, the quality outweighs the quantity.
The four upperclassmen are virtual lead-pipe cinches to start, so the battle is being waged for that fifth spot. Strathman is comfortable with a number of the sophomores and it may just depend on the matchups as to who gets the start.
Maybe the biggest question is developing some inside play to take the pressure off Cooks. While she’ll be one of the best post players in the state, Strathman knows she can’t go for 32 minutes, be it fatigue or foul trouble.
Judging from the eye test, it’s evident Robertson has become much stronger and more aggressive going to the basket, which means more trips to the free throw line where she’s virtually automatic. Yowell at times can go on incredible streaks and Strathman is hoping she’ll develop the consistency you’d expect from a senior. Riley Hett, a sophomore, also has some range.
Strathman is excited about a schedule that has to rank about a 9 on a 1-10 scale in terms of competitiveness. Back-to-back games with Derby and Miege will be brutal, as Derby could win 6A and Miege is the defending 4A D-I champion.
“We’re going to find out how good we are,” Strathman said. “The schedule is really good. I told the girls it’s been years and years since I remember playing two teams in the same week, unless it’s tournament week, the caliber of Derby and Miege that second week. We could come out 0-2, but we’re going to know a lot about ourselves.”
MHS also has Newton back on the schedule and the Railers have been high caliber for a long time. Abilene, Winfield, Andale, Andover and Great Bend are others that will test MHS' mettle.