• MID AMERICA CLASSIC •
• Thursday’s Games •
3:00 — Shawnee Mission East (5-5) vs. Wichita Northwest (5-5)
4:30 — Manhattan (9-1) vs. Hays (0-10)
6:00 — Andale (6-4) vs. Olathe East (5-5)
7:30 — McPherson (6-4) vs. Gardner-Edgerton (4-6)
Here are thumbnail sketches of the seven other teams in the Mid America Classic that begins Thursday (other than McPherson):
• Andale — The Indians of veteran coach Mark Kerschen, in his 23rd year, are a Classic staple, as they have been a regular for several years.
The Indians are 6-4, but enter the game on a high as they toppled state-ranked Buhler 55-52 last week. Andale has won three in a row, six of its last eight.
The Indians’ Brittany Meyer will be one of the top players in the tourney. The 5-3 guard averages 14.1 points, with more than half of her field goals coming from beyond the arc. She receives strong support from 5-9 Lauren Rowland, who scores 10.7 points a game. Kylee Ebert, a 6-1 post, is the team’s top rebounder at nearly six a game. All three players are juniors as the Indians are a team of the future with only one senior.
Andale has no bargain in its opener, taking on Class 6A Olathe East.
“Olathe East appears to have some quality players,” Kerschen said. “They’re not overly big, but drive the ball and run lots of sets, play aggressive basketball and their record could be deceiving based on the teams they play, of which I have no idea about.”
Kerschen said the records of the teams aren’t indicative of the field.
“The records are not as imposing as the last two years, but as always we have to play hard and at a high level if we expect to get some wins,” he said.
• Gardner-Edgerton — Scott Schaefer has won more games in the Roundhouse than any other girls coach.
Schaefer, of course, won 272 total games at McPherson High and four Class 5A state championships during his storied tenure.
And now he goes up against the team he used to coach for a second time, having lost 41-32 two years ago. His team this year, though, doesn’t have the experience of that team.
“It’s a tough draw with playing the host school on first night,” Schaefer said. “At least we’ll have an idea on what to expect.”
The Trailblazers have struggled on the offensive end, averaging just over 40 points a game. They are 4-6, but have played mostly a schedule against Blue Valley teams. They do come in off a 64-21 victory over Blue Valley Northwest.
No Blazer hits for double figures, with 5-8 Angeliece Tucker leading the way at 8.4. Schaefer’s team is painfully young, starting two freshmen and two sophomores.
Schaefer knows as well as anybody, having helped start the tournament with the blessing of the McPherson Optimist Club, what an event it is.
“It’s a very good field, even though not great records for all the teams,” he said. “There are several teams with tradition and quality competition on their schedule, teams with solid fundamentals and sound coaching.”
• Hays — It’s been a tough year for Kirk Maska’s Indians, who hope to record their first win of the season at some point in the tourney, as they are 0-10 and go up against powerful Manhattan in the 4:30 p.m. opener Thursday.
Maska said it will be tough for his team to match up with Manhattan. Hays scores only 30 points a game and has not scored more than 43 points in a game this year. Audra Schmeidler, a 5-9 sophomore, paces the Indians with an 8.5 average, which includes 19 points against Junction City.
Haley Wells is the team’s only senior and there are five sophomores among the top 11 players.
Maska said the field is somewhat deceiving, as there’s a lot of teams hovering near the .500 mark, but have played a lot of quality competition.
• Manhattan — If you listen to the other coaches, it’s Manhattan’s championship to lose.
The Indians put on a whale of a performance in last year’s championship game, losing in the finals to powerful Olathe South. They used the tourney as a springboard to this season, with nine wins in 10 games, the only loss 60-58 to Great Bend.
Caroline Ballard and Darby Price, both 5-11, average 13.9 and 11.9 points, respectively. 5-8 Amara Ehie chips in with 7.6.
Coach Scott Mall is excited to be back and rightfully so. And despite’s Hays’ 0-10 record, Mall is taking nothing for granted in the first round.
“Our most vivid memory of playing Hays is when they beat us in OT in the first round two years ago, a rude welcome to the MAC,” he said. “I know they have had to replace a lot of good players from last year, but I am sure they are improving, and they are always well-coached, play good defenseand utilize their players to the best of their abilities. I know (Audra) Schmeidler has had some big games for them.”
Mall appreciates the tourney as much as any coach in the field.
“I think McPherson is always the favorite in their tournament,” Mall said. “They always seem to play well and rise to the occasion. Their record is deceiving as they have played a very difficult schedule and have had to develop a fairly new team after losing some very good players who were key players for many seasons. With (Abby) Pedersen, (Janae) Barnes and (Hannah) Willems, they have some key players with experience.”
Mall added there’s several other quality teams.
“Andale is always well-prepared and returns one of the best players, (Brittany) Meyer, in the tournament from last year, along with (Lauren) Rowland,” Mall said. “Olathe East, with (Regan) Stone, Shawnee Mission South, with outside shooters like (Sierra) Roberts and (Allison) Hines, and Gardner-Edgerton play a very difficult schedule in the Kansas City area. We don't see them normally, so they will be an unknown, but very challenging teams. Wichita Northwest, with (Cassie) Pauls and (Calea) Carr, has a team with good athletes, and I know their coach feels very good about his team. It looks like a very balanced field.”
• Olathe East — The Hawks of coach Clint Evans started the year 3-0, lost five in row, but now have won their last two for a 5-5 record.
They play a lot of low-scoring games, averaging only 41 points but giving up just 31. The player to watch is 5-8 Regan Stone, who averages 8.6 points and leads the team in 3-pointers.
The Hawks get Andale in the first round on Thursday.
“We feel like it will be a tough game versus Andale,” Evans said. “They have some size and athleticism in their frontcourt that will be an interesting matchup for us as where I hope some of our team speed and depth will be an issue for them. We will have to play well to have a chance to win.”
The Hawks are making their first-ever appearance in the tourney.
“This is a very balanced tourney field,” Evans said. “Manhattan, obviously, has to be the favorite, but there are six other teams that are very close to each other, so I think there will be a number of close games which will make for a great tourney. We are very excited to be a part of the tournament and are already impressed by how professional and organized the preparation has been in bringing the tournament together.”
• Shawnee Mission South — Another tourney newcomer from the big-school classification, the Raiders play Wichita Northwest at 3 p.m. Thursday in matchup of 5-5 teams.
Sierra Roberts, a 5-7 senior, will be one of the tourney’s top players, averaging just under 13 points a game while lighting it up from 3-point, making almost three a game.
First-year coach Kelsey Hill is excited about playing Wichita Northwest in the opener.
“I am looking forward for our girls playing a team from a different part of the state,” she said. “Wichita Northwest has played some historically great programs already this year and has been challenged. I am looking forward specifically to the guard matchups.”
The Raiders are not used to venturing out to this part of the state.
“You have a good group of historically extremely competitive schools in girls basketball in Kansas,” she said. “There is a lot of experience with many of the schools both from a coaching and playing perspective. This should be a fun tourney field to watch develop not only this week but throughout the end of February and into the state tourney brackets in March.”
• Wichita Northwest — The third new team in the field, Northwest, has been on a roller-coaster, never winning more than two games in a row during its 5-5 start.
Coach Jim Mernagh has quite a resume, which includes 17 years at Northwest and nearly 30 overall in the profession. His team’s .500 record is reflected in the stats, as the Grizzlies average 41 points a game and give up just under 40. Their top player is 5-9 Cassie Pauls, who scores 9.0 points and tops the team in 3-points shooting.
“We are about where I thought we would be,” Mernagh said. “Right now we are sick and injured, but hopefully we will be ready to go with everyone come tournament time. Calea Carr has a bum ankle and is out until next week and Cassie Pauls is sick and could be out until the start of the tournament depending on how she responds. Our games against Wichita South and Kapaun have been pretty tough. Both teams put a lot of pressure on you and both have some very talented players.”
Mernagh is excited about being part of this tourney.
“We are excited to be in the MAC this year, we have a chance to play teams that we have never seen before,” he said. “I am excited to see Andale’s coach Mark Kerschen, because he is a very good coach and has had a great program for many years. I got to know Mark when I was coaching the boys team at Andale back in the late 90’s.”