When I looked at the McPherson High girls basketball roster prior to the start of the season, I wondered out loud, “where are the points going to come from?”
The Bullpups returned very little offense from last year’s team that advanced to state, losing in the first round to eventual champion Bishop Miege.
None of this year’s three seniors — Madison Hoffman, Cassidy Wedel and Bri Cooks — were starters in that game against the Stags at Salina’s Bicentennial Center. Hoffman was the most experienced, having shared time with Brooke Bate as a defensive stopper.
The only returning starter was Ashtyn Schieferecke, who battled inside like a warrior despite being a somewhat undersized sophomore.
With Bate, Abby Pedersen, Janae Barnes and Hannah Willems having departed, I thought a 10-10 record would be the norm, perhaps 11-9 or 12-8 if the Bullpups played well.
Was I ever wrong.
Chalk this up as one of Chris Strathman’s best coaching jobs in his 10 years. The Bullpups take a 16-4 record to Hays on Friday to take on Ulysses in the first round, with an expected matchup with Buhler to complete the latest trilogy between the teams on Saturday. Unlike last year when MHS swept its chief arch-rival in all three, the teams have split so far and there is so little separation between them.
Of course, nobody ever expected the contributions the team has received from freshmen Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks. Robertson, whose basketball prowess has been well known around McPherson for years, has compiled the best freshman year in MHS girls history. She has averaged nearly 16 points, shoots 52 percent from the field, 50 from 3-point and 89 from the line. She plays with poise and an unflappable demeanor.
Cooks has been the second-half find. While she doesn’t start, she comes in for her sister early in games. She’s an effective low-post scorer with great touch and is long on defense. She wound up being the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder.
Hoffman has been uber-efficient at the point. She averages less than three turnovers a game and is the best on-ball defender on the team. Wedel and Bri Cooks both have shot it well from the field and have improved defensively.
Schieferecke plays with a high motor and is to the girls what Nathan Nutter is to the boys. You never have to worry about effort as she plays hard from start to finish.
Perhaps best about this season is the depth Strathman has developed. Mandi Cooks and Ally Ulsaker are inside reserves, Paige Schmidt backs up Hoffman at the point and is pesky defensively, Emma Yowell provides 3-point shooting off the bench and Kamryn Collins is the “X” factor as she may be the team’s best athlete. Once her offense catches up with her high-level defense, she’s going to be some kind of player. Jordan Bruner rounds out the bench and showed much improvement since the start of the season.
All of the bench players are underclassmen, as the Bullpups are set up for a nice run in the coming years.
If MHS can somehow get out of the sub-state, it could make a nice state run if it can stay away from Bishop Miege. The Stags are undefeated and I’ll be surprised — given the players they have back— if anyone challenges them at all. They’re probably the best team in any class in Kansas.