Bishop Miege and McPherson High’s girls are ranked 1-2 in the current Class 4A Division I basketball poll and there’s no reason at this point to believe they won’t remain there the rest of the season.
MHS’ only loss was a 59-51 road decision to the Stags in Roeland Park, a game that was tied with 5 1/2 minutes to go. The two schools met in last year’s state finals, with Miege triumphing.
We’ll get a better read of the state picture soon after the holiday break when MHS travels on Jan. 5 to play Circle, the No. 4 team in the poll.
I get the sense this may be a somewhat down year in Class 4A D-I. MHS has already seen No. 6 Abilene and after a slow start easily handled the Cowgirls on their homecourt. Augusta, which is in AVCTL Division III with the Bullpups and Circle, is ranked No. 9 and from what I remember from last year it won’t be on par with the Bullpups.
The team perhaps to watch is No. 5 Labette County and its wondrous guard Tristan Gegg, but the Grizzlies don’t play near the level of competition as the Bullpups.
The current Top 6 in this week’s poll all played at state last year.
There were questions before the season how the Bullpups would get along without All-State center and University of Texas-San Antonio signee Mandi Cooks, who is out indefinitely after suffering a torn Achilles in July. There’s been no word yet when or if she’ll return this season, but she is walking and rehabbing. Of course, her long-term health is the No. 1 priority and I’m sure Bullpup coach Chris Strathman would only put her on the court if it was certain she was ready.
In the meantime the Bullpups have motored along nicely, though they would be special with Cooks in the lineup.
Taylor Robertson is averaging 25.7 points a game and who augments her in the scoring seemingly changes from game to game. Riley Hett has been the most consistent complement, averaging 8 points.
What I like most about Strathman’s team is its depth. While the starting five has been relatively consistent — the same five has started all but one game — he can go to his bench early without fear of a dropoff.
Replacing Cooks in the post was the No. 1 priority during the preseason, and Cassie Cooks and Maggie Leaf have stepped up. Cassie Cooks is averaging almost 7 points a game and had back-to-back games where she averaged 13 points. Leaf plays very hard on the defensive end and seems to have a nose for the ball when it comes off the glass.
Strathman has a multitude of perimeter players. Hannah Hageman had her career game at the best possible time with 16 points against Derby, including some clutch play down the stretch that clinched the win. Laykn Schieferecke has settled in at the point and I still think she’ll be a major offensive contributor as she has a nice mid-range game.
Emma Ruddle, Claire Yowell and Andrea Sweat all have exciting offensive potential as they’re quality shooters. Freshman Grace Pyle is starting to get comfortable and had a huge 8-point game off the bench in the narrow win Tuesday over Andover. Jaycee Burghart, Megan Eisenbarth and Kari Ellet all have had their moments where they have contributed.
I have mentioned this on the air in our broadcasts that I think MHS’ reserves could be the third-best team in Division III and probably even give Circle a good challenge. Because of the balance of the team, practices are spirited as those players who don’t start are trying to impress Strathman so they can earn more minutes.
The Bullpups still have an ambitious schedule ahead of them, as they’ll have at least two very tough games in the Mid America Classic, and there’s also non-league games with good 5A schools Newton and Great Bend, as well as 4A Andale, which is always tough to beat on its home court.
If the Bullpups can continue to stay the course, there’s little doubt in my mind they’ll be playing in Salina come March.