Had McPherson High’s girls played anybody else on Wednesday in the first round of the Class 4A Division I State Basketball Tournament, they probably would be spending today in preparation for Friday's semifinals.
Unfortunately, the Bullpups drew the short straw. Being the No. 7 seed, they knew they were going to play one of Bishop Miege, Kansas City Piper and Paola — all 19-3.
A matchup with Piper or Paola could have resulted in a victory. But Miege was its usual machine-like self, making very few errors and suffocating the Bullpups with its quickness to come away with a 62-45 victory.
At the outset, the Bullpups appeared overmatched. Miege’s pressure defense forced 10 first-quarter turnovers and MHS was having trouble getting offense in the paint as the Stags wouldn’t allow the ball to get inside to Janae Barnes and Ashtyn Schieferecke.
The Bullpups, though, settled down and started to rain 3-pointers. They were able to overcome a nine-point deficit to take a two-point lead, 20-18, before Miege went on another tear to close out the half with a 29-23 advantage.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Hannah Willems and Abby Pedersen to start the second half energized the Bullpups as eight of their first 10 baskets of the game came from beyond the arc. The game was tied as late as 4:24 to go in the third quarter, 33-33, but Miege then stepped up its game to a level MHS could not approach.
Barnes went to the bench with her fourth foul with 3:23 left in the third quarter and the Stags took advantage to reel off a sizz that produced a 45-35 advantage. Miege, as the great teams do, finished the game off by making 16 of 19 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Make no mistake, Miege was the better team. Its defensive pressure was vise-like and it forced the Bullpups into 25 turnovers, which resulted in a whopping 29 points. MHS simply didn’t have the quickness and foot speed to go toe-to-toe with the team I believe will win the title. Wamego is the No. 1 seed and undefeated, but it didn’t exactly light up the sky in struggling past a Mulvane team the Bullpups defeated twice.
This was without question one of the best coaching jobs in Chris Strathman’s nine years at the helm. Some may even say it was better than 2012, even though MHS won the state title that year. But it also had the horses to do it and it was expected.
A 17-6 record and trip to state this year wasn’t.
Pedersen and Barnes were the only two starters back. The team got off to a struggling 2-4 start, including an awful loss to Hutchinson that perhaps proved costly as an 18-4 record could have kept it away from Miege in the first round.
It was about that time that Strathman elevated Schieferecke into the starting lineup. She had missed all of the previous season with a knee injury, which stalled her progress. Yet, it all seemed to come together when she was inserted, as she was physically tough and her offense improved light-years at the end of the year.
MHS wound up winning 15 of its next 16 games, the only loss coming in the finals of the Mid America Classic to Manhattan, which is 22-1 and in the semifinals of the Class 6A State Tournament. MHS handed arch-rival Buhler three losses and had to beat the Crusaders for the right to advance to state. While all the pressure seemingly was on MHS in that game, it turned in a great effort to again thwart a Buhler team that was just as talented.
Now Strathman and the Bullpups must look ahead. The losses of Pedersen, Barnes, Willems and Brooke Bate are haymakers to the stomach. Schieferecke is the only returning starter and if she improves as much as she did this year, she’ll be solid.
Madison Hoffman made a huge impact on the team the second half of the season and was like a sixth starter as she shared minutes with Bate. She's a quality defender, very quick with the basketball and started to become more offensive-minded down the stretch. She'll be augmented by Paige Schmidt, who has some really nice offensive skills.
Also in the backcourt, Emma Yowell could be the heir apparent as the 3-point specialist. She had some huge freshman games and when she is open with her feet set, she's virtually automatic. Another freshman, Kamryn Collins, is an intriguing prospect as she's quick and left-handed, which is always an advantage.
It's upfront where the Bullpups need for some players to develop in a hurry and take that next step in their careers. Cassidy Wedel's time should come next year as she played crucial minutes late in the season. Bri Cooks started the first several games and will no doubt try to regain that spot. She is an aggressive rebounder and can get good position in the paint. Ally Ulsaker had some very good moments, she just needs to develop some confidence in herself. She is a very good shooter and can run the floor.
The Bullpups had sparkling JV and freshmen records, not to mention moving up is an undefeated eighth-grade team. There are a few players who will make a serious bid for a spot on the varsity.
As usual, a lot depends on how much time the players work on their games during the offseason. A lot of improvement can be made over the summer as players can work on their shooting and ballhandling skills, even if for just an hour a day. If they don't, they've probably reached their plateaus.
While the Bullpups will again have an almost-new starting five next year, I would expect Strathman to roll out another team that will be able to compete with anybody night-in and night-out.