A common denominator in some of the most memorable moments in McPherson High girls basketball history is Bishop Miege.
Some of the most thrilling victories ever for the Bullpups, as well as some of the most agonizing defeats, involved the Stags.
The schools renew their rivalry at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the Class 4A Division I State Tournament at Salina’s Bicentennial Center. Between them, they have won a remarkable 24 state championships.
It was a game with Miege, however, that put the Bullpup program on the map for good.
A little background. MHS’ first-ever state appearance came in 1977 against the Stags, who were a 44-31 winner in the first round.
The Bullpup program, however, started to take hold in 1979. MHS made the 5A semifinals, only to be bounced 63-33 by the Stags. MHS would go on to take third that year, its highest finish in the brief history of the program, which started with the 1969-70 season with a limited schedule since a lot of high schools didn’t have basketball back then.
In 1980, the Bullpups charged their way into the state finals, where waiting was Miege. Led by the redoubtable Angie Snider, who would later star at KU, the Stags again overwhelmed the shellshocked Bullpups, 77-38. Even though they were the two best teams in the state, a definite chasm appeared to exist as state basketball was Miege and then everybody else.
So when the teams met again in the 1981 state finals, the story figured to be the same — the Bullpups had made their nice little run and then would have their heads handed to them as usual by the Stags.
But this time something was different. Maybe the Stags were overconfident. Maybe they didn’t realize the leaps and bounds the Bullpups had made under coach John Hoffman. What followed was a game that reminded me of the 1985 Villanova-Georgetown NCAA title game. The Bullpups played flawlessly and it was the perfect storm as everything came together. As the seconds ticked down, one of the greatest upsets in girls basketball state history was about to be completed and that was the beginning of McPherson as one of the legendary girls’ programs in Kansas.
I remember sitting courtside in Emporia that night and to borrow a line from the greatest sportscaster of all time, Jack Buck, it was, “I can’t believe what I just saw!”
This was Miege, mighty Miege, having been slain, like David loading up and knocking out Goliath. The shield of invincibility had finally been stripped. No longer did the Bullpups have to look way up at Miege. The teams could finally look at each other in the eye as equals. And the 2,000 or so McPherson fans on hand probably were thinking the same thing. There was now a true rivalry. You can’t have a rivalry until at least both teams have won.
The following year, MHS proved it was no fluke as it defeated the Stags 57-47 in the semifinals. The Bullpups would go on to defeat AVL member Newton 36-35 in the championship game, back when the schools had one of the best in-season rivalries in Kansas and greatly respected each other.
McPherson and Miege have met 11 times overall, with 2003 the only other game that was for the championship. Miege won that night, 47-44.
After starting 0-3 against the Stags, the Bullpups have won five of the last eight to move to 5-6 overall.
The only factor that hasn’t changed in the series is the man at the helm of Miege. Terry English, without question, is the greatest girls basketball coach in Kansas history. He is in his 37th year, and has won 745 games and lost only 159, with 16 state championships. And current Bullpup coach Chris Strathman noted earlier this week that given the Stags’ youth, they’re set up for the next several years. If he still has the desire, there’s no question English can reach the 800-win mark. His son, Jeff, is the head JV coach and I would guess the heir apparent.
English’s teams at Miege have been like machines. His system has never wavered over the years, as the Stags are always fundamentally sound, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s been able to land some of the best talent in the KC metro area. It’s not cheap to go to the private school. According to its website, it’s $7,825 a year for those in the Miege district, $9,325 for those out of district. And needless to say, I’m sure the Stags have a player or two on their team this year that live out of the district, whereas McPherson plays with the cards its dealt.
When the teams meet, it’s the big-city girls against the small-town girls. Maybe it’s that contrast that makes this series so polarizing.