As it looks now McPherson High girls basketball coach Chris Strathman obviously tamped down his public expectations during the preseason.
At first glance it appeared Strathman was going to face his most daunting rebuilding task in his 10 years as head coach, even as daunting as the 2008-09 season when he had to replace most of his mainstays from a Class 5A state championship team.
Last year Strathman started four seniors who accounted for a good chunk of the Bullpups’ offensive output during a campaign that resulted in another trip to the state tournament. In that group was the team’s three starting guards and the lone veteran inside presence.
Strathman didn’t start this season completely from scratch, but let’s just say he had to experience what a lot of other programs routinely go through.
But privately he had a good vibe about this team. He had watched it during its summer camp and saw a lot of intriguing possibilities. Granted, he knew he wasn’t going to have the size of recent years with that experienced 6-foot post player (or two as was the case for the 2012 state championship team). But there were a lot of players with skills that only needed to be refined.
The Bullpups are off to a 4-1 start, the only loss coming to a ranked Class 5A team, Andover. In that game, MHS was a bit overwhelmed at the start as this Trojan team is regarded as one of the best in its history. The Bullpups were blindsided by a 22-7 Andover first quarter, but then recovered from the haymaker to be outscored by only two points the rest of the way.
Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking what this team could be in two years (scary) because of all the young players. I have to remember that this year’s team can still accomplish a lot — a lot more than I ever expected at the start.
I had silver-plattered the AVCTL Division III title to Buhler because of its experience and the presence of two potential All-State players in Jessica Steffen and Alex Keller. But now, I’m not so sure. While the Crusaders could very well win the division, they'll definitely get pushed in their two regular-season meetings with the Bullpups.
The question about where the points will come from has been answered. The Bullpups have been putting up points at a rapid clip and have done it both inside and outside. Their ability to shoot the 3-pointer has opened things up for a team that’s a bit undersized. There’s only one player taller than 5-11 (freshman Mandi Cooks) and most of the time there are three guards on the floor.
The three seniors have been solid. Madison Hoffman does just what Strathman wants her to do — handle the ball and guard the team’s best defensive guard. Cassidy Wedel has blossomed at the offensive end, as she can play both inside and outside. Bri Cooks has given the Bullpups nice minutes on the interior and never tries to do too much or play outside of her limitations.
There are three juniors — Ashtyn Schieferecke, Ally Ulsaker and Paige Schmidt. Schieferecke is the only returning starter and her improvement is apparent, especially on the offensive end where she’s developed a nice mid-range game. Ulsaker could start for a lot of teams and the Bullpups don’t fall off a tick when she comes in. She can shoot the ball well and is gaining confidence. Schmidt is a pesky, aggressive defender and a good ballhandler.
Sophomore Emma Yowell is providing MHS with a home-run threat. When she gets her feet set and doesn’t rush, she’s a deadly 3-point shooter and is improving as a defender.
Kamryn Collins, another soph, is just starting to scratch the surface. She’s a great athlete and catches teams off guard because she’s left-handed. She’s not afraid to take the ball to the basket and should develop into a top defender.
Jordan Bruner is a sophomore to watch in the future, as she’s following her siblings in the MHS program. Their M.O. was to improve dramatically from year to year. Sophomore Emma Ellet was lost in the first game of the season to a knee injury and another sophomore of whom big things were expected, Morgan Howard, has not yet played this year because of an injury.
Then there's the two freshmen on the varsity.
Taylor Robertson has been in the public eye since she was about 8 years old. There were some who were wondering if she was going to start from Day One and Strathman had no qualms as she deservedly was in the lineup on Opening Night. She has been a dynamic player and if she continues on the path she has taken, don't be surprised if her name isn't a fixture on the All-State lists as her career unfolds. She is a tremendous shooter and has a remarkable skill set, not to mention nothing seems to faze her. Her unflappable play is what I enjoy most about her and I really believe she'll take her place with Katelyn Loecker, Ashley Sweat, Marlies Gipson, Stacey Becker and Kristina Barrow of past MHS lore.
Mandi Cooks already has exceeded what I thought she would provide. Like Robertson, she has unique skills, with the ability to score inside with either hand. Strathman is using her smartly and she has something no other Bullpup has — height and length. Like Robertson, I see a great future for her if she continues her improvement. The two freshmen should be quite a pair for years to come.
But let's stay with this year. The Bullpups just seem to get better and better every game. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.