There was a time when interest in the Mid America Classic was threatened because McPherson High was dominating the field almost to the point of boredom.
The Bullpups won nine straight titles from 1999 to 2007 and it almost became accepted that they were going to win it every year.
But Andale finally ended the Bullpups’ run in 2008. And since then, MHS has been kept out of the championship circle, except in 2012 when the Bullpups went on to win their last state championship.
So the Bullpups are hungry to regain the gold, which for the most part has been grabbed in recent years by Olathe South, which is the defending champion and on MHS’ side of the bracket.
To probably meet the Falcons, though, the Bullpups must get past Shawnee Mission South in Thursday’s 7:30 game of the 23rd annual Classic, hosted by the McPherson Optimist Club.
“Shawnee Mission South will be a test in the first round,” MHS coach Chris Strathman said. “Their two best players are both seniors and they played here two years ago for them. Robyn MacDonald is a physical player and is averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Karoline Shelton is averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds, so what they do all starts with those two seniors. I have also been impressed with Abby Gerber, a 5-5 junior guard that can score the basketball as well.”
South is 4-5 on the year and played on Monday, losing 54-40 to Mill Valley. But it should be rested by Thursday and this could be one of the better games of the first round.
The Bullpups come in 9-1 as they have reached the halfway point of their schedule. They were supposed to have played last Tuesday at Newton, but the game was postponed until Feb. 5. So they have been off since outlasting Andale 50-46 a way back on the 12th.
“We have tried to keep our girls as fresh as we can with the big layoff since Andale,” Strathman said. “We have had some girls out with illness, which we always seem to deal with at this time of year. Hopefully we are good by Thursday, so honestly our health is a much bigger concern than any rust from not playing since Friday the 12th.”
Strathman doesn’t have to be reminded what awaits the Bullpups if form holds true as Olathe South has to get past Ulysses.
“We all know Olathe South has never lost a game at the MAC tourney as they have been very good for a long time,” Strathman said. “They are strong again this year and have played in a ton of close games already, including a couple of overtime games and one of their losses was at the buzzer on an offensive rebound/putback to Shawnee Mission West. They will be a tough out as always. Ulysses is also much improved in the last couple of years. They are currently at 7-4 with two of those losses in overtime. We saw them in sub-state two years ago when their best players were just freshmen and sophomores, but you could tell they were going to be much better.”
If the favorites win on Thursday on the other side of the bracket, it should be a Hays-Manhattan semifinal.
“Hays has also been playing very well as their one loss is to Aquinas,” Strathman said. “They started playing a lot of young girls at the end of last year and it is paying off for them now. The matchup between Shawnee Mission Northwest and Manhattan is very interesting and tough. Northwest will try to turn the game into a grind and Manhattan will prefer to speed things up. Both are very good at what they do. That may be the toughest first-round matchup that I can recall from all of the Mid-America Classics.”
Manhattan, which lost in the finals last year to Olathe South, went on to win the Class 6A state title. The Indians are led by Christiana Carr, who has pledged to Kansas State and was picked as one top players in the nation by one service during the preseason.
• THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE •
3:00 — Manhattan vs. Shawnee Mission Northwest
4:30 — Hays vs. Wichita Northwest
6:00 — Olathe South vs. Ulysses
7:30 — Shawnee Mission South vs. McPherson