McPherson High girls basketball coach Chris Strathman must feel like he’s trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle.
Strathman is looking to replace four senior starters off a team that went 17-6 last year — Abby Pedersen, Janae Barnes, Hannah Willems and Brooke Bate — and once again qualified for state, losing in the first round to eventual champion Miege.
Ashtyn Schieferecke is the only returning starter and the junior is sure to be in the lineup because she’s the most talented and experienced inside presence.
But after that, Strathman has no less than 10 players who at some point could work their way into the starting lineup. He has a lot of players with a particular strength, it’s just how it works into the team concept.
The new-look Bullpups open their season here Friday against El Dorado, with tip time set for 6 p.m. It marks the coaching debut for the Wildcats’ Jordan Crawford, a former McPherson High and McPherson College star.
“We are really looking forward to this Friday and our game with El Dorado,” said Strathman, who is a remarkable 178-39 as he enters his 10th year as head coach, two of them that have resulted in state championships. “I expect them to be a team that will play very hard and will try to mix things up defensively this year. I think Jordan is going to do a great job with the players that he has. It will be quite an experience for him to have his first game as a head coach back here on his old home floor. Our girls will be ready to play. It is exciting that we get to see so many of our girls in what will be their first significant varsity opportunity.”
The Bullpups have only three seniors — Madison Hoffman, Cassidy Wedel and Bri Cooks. Hoffman finished last year strong with some good performances as the Bullpups’ top guard off the bench. Wedel has versatility while Cooks is known for her rebounding and defense.
Juniors Paige Schmidt and Ally Ulsaker are sure to make major bids for a starting spot. Schmidt is a combo guard, as she can run the point but also is a top outside shooter. Ulsaker gets her best chance for extensive minutes if she can battle on the inside.
Strathman is excited about his sophomores and freshmen. Sophs Kamryn Collins and Emma Yowell were on the varsity late last year, with Jordan Bruner, Emma Ellet and Morgan Howard also with a shot at some clock. Howard has been injured and her time to contribute delayed.
And don’t be surprised if freshmen Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks make a statement about playing time. Robertson is a highly skilled ballhandler and shooter, while Cooks, at 6-0, could be a defensive presence as she’s quick and athletic.
The Bullpups took to the court Monday for their annual public scrimmage and gave Strathman plenty to think about.
“The biggest thing we got out of the scrimmage was the opportunity to play in front of the community, which helps get some of the first-time jitters out of the way,” he said. “We need to play someone else this week and really start to figure out where we are as a team.”