Thoughts after watching MHS team camps for football, basketball

By Steve Sell
June 05, 2014

I made the rounds Wednesday to the summer team camps of McPherson High’s three most high-profile sports.

The first stop was McPherson Stadium for the football camp. I was impressed by the numbers and coach Tom Young told me that if everybody would have been there, the number would have been better than 80 (including freshmen). 

The Bullpups are coming off an eighth straight winning season under Young, not to mention eight straight playoff appearances. Before his arrival, MHS had not made the playoffs since 1988.

My first striking impression was how much some of the sophomores and juniors from last year have developed physically. Young said several players have put on 15 or 20 pounds, most of it muscle. The strength of a football team is its offensive and defensive lines and it appears the Bullpups will have no shortage in those positions.

Offensively, the Bullpups were primarily a running team last year as quarterback Kyler Kinnamon broke the longstanding single-season rushing record of Dwayne Chandler and TJ Stites went over 1,000 yards despite not starting until the fifth game. Stites has departed, which means running back is a top priority. Avery Gabel, whose sophomore football season basically was derailed by injuries, is now 100 percent and Marcus McDaniel could be moved from quarterback to running back as he’s such a good athlete. 

The Bullpups hope to improve on a defense that wore down last year, as they gave up big points and yards in three of their final four games.

MHS knows it will have to be ready from the get-go, as it opens the season with games against Class 5A runner-up Salina South (which lost to Blue Valley 27-26 in the state title game) and Andale (which ousted MHS from the 4A playoffs in the second round and has a lot of players back).

My next stop was the boys basketball camp of coach Kurt Kinnamon, who is coming off a state championship year  —  his fifth —  and the Bullpups’ 12th overall.

There’s no way Kinnamon can completely replace the talents of the Horton twins and the emotional support Keshawn Sewell brought to the team even though he didn’t play after Christmas.

However, they were the lone seniors, so Kinnamon has a wealth of experience back.

What made the 2014 championship team so good was its passing ability, but the 2015 team could be just as good or better in that regard. MHS will be painfully short, so it has to make up for that deficiency by superbly excelling in other facets.

It all, of course, starts with All-State All-Class first-team pick Kyler Kinnamon, who enters his final year. It seems like only yesterday he was making his debut as a freshman.

Kinnamon will be the unquestioned team leader and at the epicenter of everything the Bullpups do. Also back are starters Nathan Nutter and state championship game hero Drew Pyle. Both have made marked improvement in just a few months since the season ended.

It’s pretty clear the Hortons’ spots will be taken by Spenser Wine and Avery Gabel, last year’s super subs who will make the seamless transition into the starting lineup. I was impressed with both of them in terms of their physical advancement.

Kinnamon had a cavalcade of sophomores on the varsity last year, including Pyle, Wine, Gabel and Marcus McDaniel. It will be interesting to see which of the others take that next step and become factors. A couple of sophomores-to-be also could help.

There’s also one of the best freshman classes in recent history moving up, but whether any of those players are physically and emotionally mature enough to contribute remains to be seen. However, there’s no questioning their ability, it’s just a matter of time before they make their mark on the program, be it 2015 or 2016.

My final stop was the girls basketball camp and my first thought was that it seemed strange not to see four-year standout Abby Pedersen on the court.

And there was no Janae Barnes, Hannah Willems and Brooke Bate. Coach Chris Strathman enters his 10th year with a strong senior class to replace.

But I was immediately encouraged by the potential athleticism of this team. There were only three seniors — Madison Hoffman, Bri Cooks and Cassidy Wedel — and it will be interesting to see which of the three takes over as the team leader. Hoffman came on strong at the end of last season and is more of a leader by example. Generally it’s your point guard that navigates the team through the choppy waters and I expect her to do that.

Cooks and Wedel have paid their dues much like Bate and Willems did. They know their time has come to step up. 

The only actual returning starter is Ashtyn Schieferecke, who could be poised for a big junior year. Two other sophomores saw quality minutes last year, Paige Schmidt and Ally Ulsaker. How much those two improve could greatly enhance MHS’ chances.

But also moving up is a talented class of freshmen who could flourish as sophomores. Kamryn Collins and Emma Yowell were on the varsity for the state tourney and Morgan Howard is another quality athlete.

And don’t be surprised if a freshman or two isn’t heard from at some point next season since they were tremendous as eighth-graders. Taylor Robertson, the ballhandling whiz, has carved out quite a legacy while moving up the ranks and the big hope is that Mandi Cooks can develop into an inside force down the road as she has all the physical gifts. Once she gains confidence in her ability, she’ll be a solid contributor.

As marvelous as the seasons were for those three teams last year, it’s always excited to get a start on the new season.