Signing of Bruner signals better days for Bulldogs

By Steve Sell
July 17, 2015

Gordon Reimer’s early years at Kansas Wesleyan were a struggle.

But once he secured its women’s basketball program on sound footing, he turned it into one of the KCAC’s best, including a three-year stretch where it was 80-17 and competed in the NAIA National Tournament each time.

The high-water mark was 2010-11 when the Coyotes were 31-3. He exited as the school’s all-time leader in coaching wins.

He’s following a similar pattern at McPherson College as in his first two years the Bulldogs are just 14-47. There were many games last year where the Bulldogs had the lead in the second half, but their lack of depth was exposed and led to collapses.

However, Reimer may be on the cusp of getting the turnaround started. He has signed a nice-sized recruiting class to go along with the dozen players who are expected back.

“I feel like this is the first real recruiting year we’ve had,” said Reimer, who didn’t arrive at Mac until after the 2013-14 school year had started so he played the hand he was dealt.

Headlining the signees is former McPherson High standout Ashton Bruner, who has elected to play her final season of collegiate eligibility for the Bulldogs. She was a two-year standout at Barton County Community College and then spent last season at Emporia State, where she started six games for the wildly successful Lady Hornets.

Bruner played 12.9 minutes a game for ESU, averaging 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds, while shooting 51 percent from the field. Projected out over 40 minutes, she would have averaged a double-double.

Needless to say Reimer was ecstatic when Bruner decided she wanted to play her final year before her McPherson family and friends as he sees the signing as a game-changer for the program as she gives it instant credibility.

“I was just thrilled,” Reimer said. “Her work ethic and athleticism are outstanding. She’s on a different gear than a lot of the players in the KCAC. She is going to be a tremendous addition.”

The 5-10 Bruner gives the Bulldogs an immediate inside presence. As a sophomore at Barton County, she averaged 11.5 points and 7.4 rebounds while earning honorable mention Jayhawk Conference honors. Reimer can see her putting up double-doubles consistently because of her relentless effort, which allows her to get a lot of putbacks. She has the ability to get to the foul line as she's fourth all-time in Barton history for free throw attempts in a season (177).

“We always had matchup problems last year with athletic players inside,” Reimer said. “Ashton has the ability to do that.”

The Bulldogs will return inside players Georgia Smart and Megan Acklin to augment Bruner and he’s also recruited a couple of freshmen with some size. The only negative was that promising 6-2 freshman Alicia Demaret indicated to Reimer that she won’t be returning. At times she could dominate, especially in the shot-blocking department and it was thought she could develop into a top-flight KCAC player before she was through.

An intriguing newcomer is 5-6 guard Kendahl Kelly, who comes to Mac from Denmark. She will be a 20-year-old freshman who is the daughter of a coach and going to college has always been her dream. Her strength is 3-point shooting and she could be the sleeper signing of the summer. Playing in Europe, the 3-point line is deeper there, so she probably will take some shots that opponents don’t expect.

A player expected to provide an immediate impact is 5-7 juco transfer Stefanie Salinas, who was among the better 3-point shooters in California as she attended Butte College. She averaged just under 10 points a game, much of her scoring coming from beyond the arc.

Kelly and Salinas join a Mac backcourt that houses two of the KCAC’s top returning players in Bailey Brown and Sunny Smart, who combined to average nearly 30 points a game last season. Brown scored 16.3 points game and Smart 13.3. The experienced Whitney Jefferson and athletic Zatorian Abra also are back. A transfer who could help is Reagan McClellan, who played her freshman year at Allen County Community College and spent last season at Hesston College. 

Two in-state freshmen of note could be Shelby Makovec of Centre and Brooke Racette of Hutchinson Trinity Catholic. Makovec played in last month’s KBCA All-Star Game while Racette had a strong career for the Celtics. Her father, Sean, was a standout football player at McPherson College and her brother, Derek, was an All-KCAC football player at Friends.

A player who really excites Reimer is another freshman guard Kristina Battle of Houston, who earned sectional first-team postseason honors in high school. Reimer sees a lot of former KW star guard LaCole Wilkinson in Battle and believes having played big-time competition in high school should help her.

The bar currently is set rather low at Mac since the Bulldogs and Bethany were the odd teams out of last year's conference playoffs. In the KCAC, however, it doesn't take much for a team to make a big jump in the standings and Reimer is hoping the Bulldogs are that surprise team this year.