McPherson High girls basketball coach Chris Strathman probably had few complaints going into the holiday break.
The way his team played this month, he shouldn’t.
The Bullpups cruised through December 5-0, including impressive wins over Andover and Andover Central, probably their top challengers in the AVCTL Division II race.
The Bullpups have five games remaining before the Mid America Classic and given the strength of the field this year, securing the No. 1 seed is paramount. At this point, MHS and 6A schools Gardner-Edgerton and Manhattan are all undefeated, and the Bullpups no doubt would like to avoid one of those teams until the finals. Scott Schaefer’s G-E team owns a victory over Miege, so you know it must be strong, while Manhattan from all accounts is solid.
The Bullpups return after the break with three games against weaker teams -- Great Bend (which lost to Newton by 50), Valley Center and Arkansas City -- before stepping back up in competition with games against Hutchinson and Newton, teams that should prepare them well for the Classic.
Strathman has the Bullpups playing at a rarefied level, especially on the defensive end. Their performance against then-undefeated Andover was a clinic, as the Trojans -- who had put up huge numbers going into the game -- were held to one (that’s right, just one) field goal in the first three quarters. Andover Central, which at the time was tied with MHS for the D-II lead, had all of 13 points for three quarters and had to score the game’s final 10 points just to reach 26.
Strathman at this point is relying on a seven-player rotation. The inside game is nonpareil with Katelyn Loecker and Ashton Bruner, as they are working well together and at times playing volleyball on the backboard.
The perimeter game is good hands with Tanner Hein, Hailey Ruder and Abby Pedersen. Hein had just one turnover through the first four games, while Ruder is a tenacious defender and together, they have caused opposing guards nightmares. Pedersen has stepped in nicely for the graduated Casyn Buchman, providing double-digit scoring and consistent 3-point shooting. The trey is going to be an MHS staple this season, since so many teams are collapsing around Loecker and Bruner, leaving a lot of open looks.
Moira Pyle and Janae Barnes have provided good minutes off the bench. Pyle backs the perimeter troika, while Barnes subs for Loecker and Bruner. As the season goes along, Strathman is hoping to develop his bench more.
For Strathman, and boys coach Kurt Kinnamon for that matter, this year presents a whole new set of challenges in terms of keeping up with what’s going on elsewhere in the state. With the Bullpups being in Class 4A -- which has 64 teams instead of 32 -- the coaches have to establish new contacts on getting information on other teams. Of course, they’re mainly concerned with the other seven teams in their substate, since that’s where the ticket to state is punched.