The last time we saw McPherson High’s basketball teams, the boys were carting away the Class 5A state championship trophy at Topeka’s Expocentre, while the girls were holding high the third-place trophy.
A lot has changed since then.
As everyone knows by now, MHS has dropped into Class 4A for the 2011-12 season, though nobody knows at this point if it’s just a one-year pit stop or if it’s permanent.
Resentment toward MHS was evident this fall when the new classifications came out. The fans of the 4A schools that MHS went up against were downright bitter at the postseason events. After St. James Academy knocked off the Bullpups for the Class 4A volleyball championship, a St. James adult fan that was just a few feet away from us yelled across the Bicentennial Center, “How do you like 4A now?”
The bitterness toward MHS could be even more noticeable during the winter. The Bullpup boys have been the gold standard for Class 5A in basketball, while the MHS girls and Miege generally are thought of as the two top programs. The boys captured their 11th title last March, while the girls have seven and were close to playing for an eighth.
Of course, the first thought of Bullpup hoop fans when the new classifications came out was, “state champions.” True, it could come to fruition, but don’t go engraving MHS’ name on the two plaques just yet.
In fact, Bullpup boys coach Kurt Kinnamon is quick to point out that Class 4A this year is regarded by many college recruiters as prime recruiting soil.
Kansas City Sumner and Ottawa, regarded as two of the top 4A teams this year, each have a legitimate Division I recruit. Nearby, Buhler has basically the same team back that was highly successful.
Then you have to remember at the 4A level, three wins are required to advance to state since the substates are eight-team, one bracket, unlike 5A which has eight-team, two brackets.
“It’s going to be no cakewalk,” Kinnamon said. “There are some very good teams in 4A this year.”
He added the depth of 4A could be second to none. As many as 10 teams, with the Bullpups being one of them, could be considered legitimate.
And, too, you have to remember this could be an MHS boys team that will be distinctly different than those in recent years. Kinnamon perhaps has his youngest varsity team ever and most inexperienced since his second year. MHS fans that have complained in recent years about the games not being competitive enough and boring may spend the year on the edge of their seats.
Kinnamon is using this perceived dropoff as a motivator for his team. Every player on his roster probably will set a career scoring high this season, since last year Christian Ulsaker and Jack Pyle combined for 45 points a game, which didn’t leave a lot of remaining points to divide up. MHS lost 50 of its 70 points a game to graduation, and this also is a team without much height and unproven outside shooting.
As for the girls, coach Chris Strathman is going to have to ride his starting five hard until his bench can catch up. The Bullpups have five proven players, led by Katelyn Loecker, who could be a Top 5 player in Kansas this year. Tanner Hein gives MHS a steady hand at the point, Ashton Bruner will be the surprise player to MHS fans, while Hailey Ruder and Abby Pedersen round out what should be a starting five on par with any team in the state.
But with three potential important contributors choosing not to play this year, Strathman has his most inexperienced bench ever. It’s going to be trial by fire for some of his younger players, who will have to grow up in a hurry.
Like Kinnamon, Strathman is taking nothing for granted with the move to 4A. He believes it will be every bit as challenging as 5A.
Included in today’s Sentinel is our annual basketball insert. In addition to in-depth stories on the Bullpups, the six area schools also are profiled.
So sit back and enjoy the ride. It should again be another wild year of hoops.