It’s finally here.
Anticipation for the 2017-18 McPherson High basketball season is off the charts as both Bullpup squads return the majority of their players from teams that finished second in the state to Bishop Miege.
The Bullpups head to El Dorado on Friday to get things under way, the precursor to next week’s gauntlet when MHS hosts a pair of powerhouse teams from Derby, then travels Friday to the Kansas City area for the rematches with Miege.
The girls play at 6 p.m. Friday, with the boys to follow.
96.7 KBBE-FM is the place to be to hear all the action with Voice of the Bullpups Jim Joyner on the call. There will be a pre-game show this year, starting 20 minutes before the beginning of the girls game, approximately 5:40.
The MHS girls are coming off a 21-4 season, two of the losses coming to Miege. They lost Jordan Bruner and Emma Yowell to graduation, but return reigning Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year Taylor Robertson, who has signed with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Mandi Cooks, who has signed with University of Texas-San Antonio, is expected to miss most of the season because of a torn Achilles, though she’s working hard in rehab to get back for the final few weeks.
MHS coach Chris Strathman starts his 13th year and he’s excited to see how the season plays out as his team is tackling a difficult schedule.
“I know the girls are ready to get going,” said Strathman, who has coached the Bullpups to 10 straight league titles, which sometimes is forgotten because of all the high state finishes. “We are looking forward to going against someone other than competing against each other. I have been pleased with the way we have shared the ball in the preseason. Our execution and timing need to improve, but these girls are willing to make the extra pass for a better shot.”
Strathman can go with a myriad of lineups as he has a large junior class, plus quality in the sophomore and freshmen classes. He’ll be looking early in the season for somebody to emerge in the post as he has four candidates vying for the job.
El Dorado probably won’t provide much competition as it’s in a total rebuild.
“El Dorado graduated four starters, a couple of which had been key players for a few years,” Strathman said. “They will be a pretty inexperienced group at the varsity level, so hopefully we can jump on them early and play well from the start.”
Strathman wants his team to play well to give it momentum heading into next week.
“We can't get caught looking ahead too far, but we know next week is going to bring some tremendous challenges for our team,” Strathman said. “Hopefully we can get everyone some experience on Friday so we can see how some of our girls respond to game action before next week's games.”
For the Bullpup boys, everybody is back from last year’s team that was 20-5 after being 6-4 at the halfway point of the regular season. But they caught fire and won 14 games in a row before losing to Miege in the finals.
All five starters are back and their maturity is evident. The Bullpups should be a tremendous shooting team and also suffocating on the defensive end with their length. Thomas Diggs, Drew Labertew, Jake Alexander, Mason Alexander and Western Illinois signee Ben Pyle have a wealth of experience and teams won't be able to concentrate on stopping just one player.
Even though the football players missed the first week of practice, they have not missed a step and it’s an MHS team that appears ready for a special season.
Like the Wildcat girls, the El Do boys are going to be inexperienced.
“El Dorado is always well coached and disciplined in what they do,” said MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, who’s now in his 23rd year. “They lost four of their starters to graduation, but they do return their leading scorer and best player from last year Jarin Koehler. He has been their leading scorer for the last two season and he is just a junior. They also return a good-sized post kid off the bench. I suspect they will try a combination of defenses.”
It hasn’t taken this team long to be chomping at the bit to play.
“We are ready to play against someone other than ourselves,” Kinnamon said. “It is a luxury to have so many guys returning that understand our system and what we want. I feel like we have shot the ball well in the preseason and the overall athleticism of this team has impressed me. All of the guys are much bigger, faster and stronger than last year. I would rather play than not play before the week we have next week.”