WICHITA — Twenty-six schools, more than 200 student-athletes, 100 coaches and a horde of media populated The Boathouse Monday for the first-ever AVCTL Winter Sports Media Day.
The four divisions came together as one, as Divisions III and IV met in the first session, while Divisions I and II conclaved for the second session.
The media members were able to talk with coaches and the student-athletes in a relaxing setting. Nearly all the schools had media packets designed to make the sports writers and broadcasters’ jobs easier as the sports season is about to move inside.
McPherson High was well represented at the event as it has six winter sports — boys basketball, girls basketball, wrestling, boys swimming, boys bowling and girls bowling.
Here’s a brief thumbnail sketch of those teams for the upcoming season.
• Boys basketball — It’s hard to believe that Kurt Kinnamon begins his 20th season at the helm and is coming off a state championship, his fifth at MHS and the school’s 12th overall.
While he must replace the talent and intangibles brought to the table by the Horton twins Ryan and Peter, the Bullpups certainly have the ammunition to make a spirited defense of their title.
All-State All-Class first-team pick Kyler Kinnamon, state championship game hero Drew Pyle and rugged forward Nathan Nutter are returning starters, while top subs Spenser Wine (out with a shoulder injury until January) and Avery Gabel are back as well as they made valuable contributions throughout the year. The addition of Manhattan transfer Payton Stephens, a farm-boy-strong 6-4 and 215-pounder, gives the Bullpups a true post presence. There’s also a host of juniors who were on varsity last year and who emerges from that pack will see time, not to mention Kinnamon has a super freshman class that may lend some depth sooner than expected.
• Girls basketball — Chris Strathman begins his 20th year as well, with the last 10 of those as head coach. He’s won a pair of state championships and assisted on four others.
Strathman faces one of his greatest rebuilding challenges as four starters departed. Ashtyn Schieferecke, who made huge strides last year, is the only returning starter and much is expected of her.
Madison Hoffman, Cassidy Wedel and Bri Cooks are the only seniors, while much is being expected from juniors Paige Schmidt and Ally Ulsaker. Strathman believes he’ll have a really nice group of sophomores and even a few freshmen who will receive a baptism of fire.
The big question is offense, as the four seniors provided a bulk of the scoring, including Division III first-team selections Abby Pedersen and Hannah Willems, along with second-team pick Janae Barnes.
• Wrestling — Doug Kretzer believes his young team that took lumps last year may be ready to deal out some lumps of its own.
Kretzer’s team last year featured a wealth of youth and that’s also the case this year as Michael McKinney, Ross Regier and Ethan VanDorn are the only seniors.
The wrestler to watch is sophomore Austin Eldredge, who won 29 matches last year and made state, but did not place. If he stays at 106, he’ll be among the best in the state and even at 113 he’ll probably be a Top 10 performer.
Kretzer believes he’ll have a team that works hard and will be focused. A key, he said, is filling all the weights and if it can do that, it should make a run at a league title and postseason honors.
• Bowling — What can coach Herb Halinski’s teams possibly do for an encore?
The girls won their first-ever state championship last year and the boys took third at state.
The girls have a “core four” that should lead a repeat assault. Jasmine Wann is a potential state champion, and state regulars Makenzie Benson, Rhianna Smith and Alexis Kieffer return as well. Filling the two open spots is a priority, with Abby Hughes expected to lead the contenders.
For the boys, only two regulars return, but they are dandies. Carl Frazier, who was seventh in the state last year and rolled a 289 game, is state championship caliber. Jeff Reed was 22nd at state. The other spots are wide open, Halinksi said.
• Boys swimming — Matt Morrow was just hired as coach last week, but he’s been around competitive swimming for 30 years, as he was a high school star at Coffeyville and competed collegiately at KU.
Morrow isn’t exactly sure what kind of numbers he’s going to have, but Eric Gaeddert and Spencer Steinert are a nice start after both qualified for state last year. Dalyn Chapman and Max Howe could join them this year.