McPherson High School girls’ basketball coach Chris Strathman knows this season will be a little different heading into Friday’s opener.

McPherson High School girls’ basketball coach Chris Strathman knows this season will be a little different heading into Friday’s opener.
It will be the first time in four years the Lady Bullpups won’t have two-time Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year Katelyn Loecker leading the charge.
“It is different,” Strathman said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot to replace and not just Katelyn. Haley [Ruder] was a very big part of our success and [Taylor] Scheidegger contributed, too. Replacing two four-year varsity players is tough for any team to do.”
Strathman and the Bullpups will be in a rebuilding mode this season, as they have three holes to replace in the starting five, with the only returners seniors Abby Pedersen and Janae Barnes. Both were named to the All-AVCTL teams in the postseason last year, with Pedersen named to the first-team and Barnes honorable mention.
Pedersen, in particular, will be the focus of a lot of defenses, as the 5-foot-8 guard has shown that, when given the opportunity, she can drop an easy 20-plus points a game.
“She’s going to find out that a lot of teams are going to be keying on her more than they did last year because we don’t have that super-dominant inside player,” Strathman said. “The ones we do have are good, but they’ve got a ways to go still, too. Teams are going to try to take Abby away, and she’s going to have to be mentally tough enough to handle that.”
Barnes, meanwhile, emerged as an on-the-court motivator during the Bullpups loss to Wamego in last year’s Class 4A championship game, as she kept MHS’ title hopes alive after Loecker and Ruder were both fouled out of the game in the closing minutes. At 6-foot, the senior will provide a strong inside presence for the team.
When McPherson takes the court Friday night against Salina Central, Strathman will start seniors Hannah Willems and Brooke Bate at guard, while 5-9 junior Bri Cooks will get the nod as the second post player.
“Age-wise, that’s as good as we can possibly ask for,” Strathman said. “A couple do lack varsity experience, but they’ll get up to speed quick enough.”
Strathman, who has a career record of 161-33 and two state championships over his nine year MHS career, is planning on suiting up 10 players for varsity, as his rotation will depend on the situation, he said.
McPherson went 22-4 last year, finishing second in the state, and had a perfect 10-0 record against AVCTL Division III opponents. Strathman doesn’t expect an easy road to a league title repeat, as a number of teams will be looking to knock the Pups off the top of the mountain.
“The other two top teams, probably, are Buhler and Mulvane,” Strathman said. “I’d give Mulvane the edge over Buhler right now, but both teams are going to be solid. Mulvane’s just got more key returners. We’ll have our work cut out for us, as those are our first two league games.”
The Pups are ranked fourth in the preseason Class 4A Division I KBCA rankings, behind Wamego, Fort Scott and Paola, with Andover Central falling fifth. This will be the first year for 4A D-I, with McPherson being tipped to host a sub-state March 6-8 that also will include Abilene, Buhler and Ulysses.
The state tournament will be held March 12-15 at the Salina Bicentennial Center.
One of the early schedule highlights for McPherson will be a return trip to Kansas City, Mo., for the Hy-Vee Classic, which will be played again at Avila University. Last year, the Lady Pups fell to Blue Springs (Mo.) 39-26 in the Kansas/Missouri showcase.
“It is an honor,” Strathman said. “I think we’re, once again, the only Central Kansas, west of Topeka type team to be in there this year. That shows they respect our tradition and things like that. We want to have a better showing up there than we did last year.”
McPherson will face St. Theresa’s Academy (Mo.) on Dec. 20 at 5:30 p.m.
The 2013-14 season, however, opens up Friday night against Salina Central at the MHS Roundhouse. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m., with the Wall of Fame ceremony to follow the game.