By CONOR NICHOLL
This week is the first of two weeks of midseason basketball tournaments – and also features a key regular season contest Friday with McPherson and Circle girls. McPherson, Dodge City TOC, Sterling, Colby and significant upsets in the Mid-Continent League and Twin Valley tournaments are among the state highlights
Class 5A: McPherson girls overcoming four injuries, stay perfect with multiple big wins; play Circle in matchup of undefeated squads Friday
Tradition-laden McPherson girls’ basketball had three seniors, Lakyn Schieferecke, Andrea Sweat and Emma Ruddle, ink with MIAA Division II colleges. Schieferecke and Sweat signed with Washburn University, and Ruddle with Fort Hays State University.
Schieferecke was recovering from a torn ACL once basketball practice started. Several days before the Dec. 6 season opener versus Andover, McPherson held its annual scrimmage for the public. Coach Chris Strathman noticed Ruddle “wasn’t herself.”
The next day, Strathman saw Ruddle “really hurting” in practice. The night prior to Andover, McPherson received surprising news. Ruddle required significant surgery. She had incisions on both shins and 68 staples. Ruddle has yet to play.
McPherson opened with a 62-20 victory versus Andover. Four days later, the Bullpups needed overtime in a 54-50 road win against Andover Central, currently 8-1 and ranked sixth in 5A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Sweat and junior standout Grace Pyle played all 36 minutes. Overall, five girls played 32-minutes plus. McPherson held the Jaguars to 37 percent shooting and was plus-7 on the glass.
That marked Sweat’s last game of her career. She is also out with a season-ending knee injury.
Still, McPherson, which won the state title two years ago and was fourth last winter, has opened 9-0 versus multiple ranked opponents. The Bullpups have ranked second in 5A behind St. Thomas Aquinas by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. McPherson and Aquinas (7-0) are the lone perfect 5A squads.
McPherson has permitted just 31 points a game. No other 5A West team in under 35. Strathman is most pleased with the Bullpups’ ability to “overcome so much adversity.” The Bullpup opponents are 45-30 when not playing McPherson; four squads have at least eight wins. Last year, McPherson was 8-1 after nine games and had allowed 37.6 points a game.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see how the kids have rallied,” he said.
On Jan. 4, McPherson won at Kansas City Piper, 44-39, in a grinding, half-court game in the 810 Varsity tournament. Piper is 10-2 with a 35-34 loss to Aquinas on Jan. 3. In the final minute, junior point guard Emma Malm, who took over the starting spot after Ruddle was injured, hurt her hamstring.
Strathman believes Malm might return for the 25th annual McPherson Mid-America Classic girls’ tournament that runs Jan. 30-Feb. 1. McPherson has one-win Ulysses in the first round, and the field will feature 9-0 Shawnee Mission Northwest, ranked third in 6A.
This weekend is the 56th annual McPherson boys’ tournament. The McPherson tournaments are annually two of the state’s premier midseason competitions. The boys’ side features the host Bullpups (No. 9 5A), Bishop Carroll (No. 1 5A) and Derby (No. 7 5A).
On Friday, McPherson girls has a key AVCTL Division III road game versus Towanda-Circle, ranked third in 4A. This is a reschedule from earlier in the month because of weather. In a rare midseason matchup of perfect teams, Circle is 9-0 and has allowed 30 points a contest. The T-Birds are the remaining unbeaten in 4A. McPherson is 8-0 versus Circle since 2013.
Schieferecke returned Jan. 3. Pyle, senior Cassie Cooks, and junior Kassidy Beam have been the team’s top scorers. All three average between 12 and 16 points a contest. Pyle is a Division I talent and was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder en route to second team all-state honors as a sophomore. Cooks is a Graceland University volleyball signee.
Beam stepped up with several huge 3s versus Andover Central, including one in the fourth quarter when McPherson trailed 34-32, and another to snap a 44-44 tie in overtime.
Sophomores Ella Schmid, Lauren Labertew and Peyton Howard have provided key minutes. Labertew has started when needed.
“Competitive nature and leadership,” Strathman said of his squad.
Ruddle continues to practice and show improvement. As of a week ago, she was involved only in shooting drills with no live practice.
“They are both going to be really close to that timeframe as far as coming back,” Strathman said of Malm and Ruddle for the tournament. “But doing that in three games in three nights is pretty tough to do.”
After the AC win, McPherson had no player taller than 5-foot-10. The Bullpups played Derby three days later. The Panthers, with more depth than McPherson, feature 6-3 junior Jaidyn Schomp, 6-2 freshman Addie Brown and 6-2 sophomore Tatum Boettjer.
McPherson pulled off a marquee 49-40 victory. On Twitter, Strathman, in his 15th year as head coach, posted that it may have been the most rewarding regular season victory he could remember. Derby is currently 7-1. The Panthers had a season low in points and shot just 26 percent.
As well, Derby collected just 24 percent of available offensive rebounds versus McPherson. As of Jan. 14, the Panthers had collected 32 percent of available offensive rebounds in its other contests.
“They just really just found a way to win, making plays, getting stops at important times, and just holding our opponents to one shot has been a big thing for us, especially with Derby and their size,” Strathman said.
On Jan. 3, McPherson defeated Dodge City, 51-30, at home in Schieferecke’s first game. DC was ranked ninth in 6A at the time, and currently stands 8-3 with all losses versus undefeated teams. The Red Demons have tallied 56.7 points a game when not playing McPherson.
“The other girls have just had to step up,” Strathman said. “It’s kind of a ‘next man up’ mentality. You hear that all the time, but that’s really the way it’s kind of been. … They have found a way. I don’t know how sometimes, but they have figured it out.”
The following day, the Bullpups traveled 183 one-way miles to Piper, the defending 4A runner-up to Bishop Miege. Piper had not lost to a non-Aquinas team in the regular season since a 55-49 defeat versus Spring Hill on Jan. 26, 2017.
“We want to get into those kind of showcase events if we can, even though it involves some travel,” Strathman said. “Because we do need to get as many good games, good competition games as we can.”
McPherson trailed 30-28 in the second half. Overall, the Bullpups finished plus-9 on the glass and held Piper to 33 percent shooting. The Pirates also shot just 22 percent from the foul line. Strathman believes McPherson could see the half-court style at the midseason tournament, and if the Bullpups qualify, at state.
“Those half court games, when they turn into that, you have got to find a way to win, and we know we can’t always get out and play in transition like we’d like to,” he said. “But you have to be able to win ugly sometimes, too, and we have been able to do that.
“So that’s been a good sign for us is it doesn’t have to be a great shooting night,” he added. “It doesn’t have to be the best night as far as handling the basketball, but you can win a lot of games with defense and rebounding, and we have done that.”
Class 2A: Sterling girls look stay atop 2A, win own tournament
Sterling girls are the reigning Class 2A state runner-up to Garden Plain. The Black Bears, though, are currently ranked first in 2A for the last three polls, a spot in front of Garden Plain. Sterling, in the Inman sub-state, is 8-1.
On Dec. 14, Sterling bested Haven, 56-51. On Dec. 19, in the Heart of America/Central Plains League Challenge, Sterling beat Cheney, 46-43, in overtime. Haven is currently seventh in 3A, Cheney is second in 3A.
One-loss Cheney defeated Garden Plain, 46-36, on Jan. 14. Also on the same night, Sterling fell, 54-26, at Central Plains. The Oilers are currently on a state record 121-game winning streak after a 98-8 win versus Macksville on Monday.
“We have had lots of hard games this year, Cheney, Haven, a couple of tough games that we have pulled through and learned to fight,” sophomore point guard Kali Briar said.
The CP loss marked Sterling’s first regular season defeat since a 69-34 defeat to the Oilers on Jan. 8, 2019. This season, Briar, playing with a covering on her thumb because of a torn ligament suffered in December, guarded CP standout senior point guard Emily Ryan, fourth on the all-time state scoring list. Ryan has signed with Iowa State.
“She is a good player and is fun to play against, and pushes me,” Briar said.
Multiple 2A coaches have noted Sterling’s returning talent and experience, led by Briar, sophomores Sadie Beagley and MaKenna Linden, seniors Elizabeth Horsch and Kinzie Comley and junior Kayla Morris. Briar, Morris and Comley all averaged between 7.5 and 10.2 points a game last winter. Linden played well at state, too.
This week, the Black Bears host the 48th Annual Sterling Invitational. The tournament, which has an excellent web site at sterlinginvitational.com, has games at Sterling High School and Sterling College.
On the boys’ side, the top seeds are Hugoton (8-0), Lyons (8-1), and Sterling (6-3). The trio all won its first-round games Monday or Tuesday by sizable margins. Defending 2A state runner-up Hutchinson Trinity (3-3) advanced to the semifinals with a 52-49 victory versus Southeast of Saline. Hugoton moved to No. 1 in 3A this week. Lyons and Sterling both own a win against a team that was ranked at the time of the matchup; Lyons defeated Larned, and Sterling beat Belle Plaine.
On the girls’ side, Sterling is the heavy favorite and was the only team over .500 at the time of seeding. The Black Bears defeated Kingman, 55-22, in the first round Tuesday, and will face Hugoton in Thursday’s semifinals.
“I still think we have lots of work to do, but definitely if we keep working hard in practices that we could make it,” Briar said of a 2A run.
Class 3A: TMP Boys survives three upsets in MCL first round; MCL boys’ tournament in existence since 1950; Trego girls look for first tourney title
Second-year Thomas More Prep-Marian boys’ head coach Bill Meagher has greatly enjoyed coaching in the Mid-Continent League, especially this winter. Eight of the 11 teams have a winning percentage of .625 or better. In the latest KBCA rankings, TMP was No. 10 in 3A and was back in the poll for the first time since Dec. 9.
“It’s good for the guys, because it’s just one of those things that feels good that people recognize what you are doing,” Meagher said. “We talk about you have got to stay humble, and you can’t let that get to your head, and we have to grind and work like we are the last team, so we try to coach on that, but I think the guys enjoy it.”
Plainville No. 3 in 2A, and Hoxie No. 6 in 2A. Ellis, which is not currently ranked, has been as high as No. 5 in 2A.
In the MCL tournament, Hoxie, Plainville, TMP and Norton were the top-four seeds. Three of the top-four lost in the first round Tuesday. Hoxie fell, 42-40, to eighth-seeded Phillipsburg. No. 7 seed Hill City defeated Plainville, 62-57. Ellis knocked off Norton, 50-44.
TMP led by 15 after the first quarter and WaKeeney-Trego cut the deficit to six points before the Monarchs won, 66-49. Phillipsburg and Ellis are in one semifinal, and TMP faces Hill City in the second semifinal Friday at Plainville High School.
The MCL boys’ tournament has been in existence since 1950, according to mclhighschool.com. Phillipsburg is the three-time defending tournament champion, and TMP won it in ’15-16. Hill City’s last title came in 2010, Ellis in 1996.
“It’s going to be a war,” Meagher said. “This league is just so awesome, and part of it is the coaching in the league is awesome. The kids in the league are awesome, and the fan bases are awesome, so every single game is just an awesome war. And it’s fun to be a part of.
“Every once in awhile you would like an easy game, but that’s not going to happen in the MCL,” he added. “But that helps us be good, and so I am looking forward to just a lot of fun coming down Friday and Saturday, and I think if you are a basketball fan, it’s going to be fun to be a part of.”
TMP opened the season with a 72-61 loss to 6A Olathe West, and then has won eight straight. Monarch junior guard Jackson Schulte averages 17.6 points a contest, and senior forward Carson Jacobs is at 13.2 points a game.
Senior point guard Brady Kreutzer has run the offense effectively. Kreutzer had seven points, four rebounds, three assists and drew a five-second call while playing defense. In the fourth quarter, Kreutzer had a great pass from the top of the key down low to sophomore Jace Wentling. Meagher said Kreutzer sees the floor better than most players he has ever been around.
“None of us even on the coaching side saw that he was open, and that’s why you’ve got to have them in those times,” Meagher said. “He just sees the floor really, really well. He is also just a great leader, and just has a lot of poise, and he has a desire to win like not very many people.”
The girls’ bracket featured all four of the top seeds winning: No. 1 WaKeeney-Trego, No. 4 Smith Center, No. 2 Phillipsburg and No. 3 Hoxie. WaKeeney-Trego is ranked fourth in 2A, Phillipsburg is ninth in 3A, and Hoxie is ninth in 2A.
Smith Center was ranked ninth in 2A on Dec. 9. The quartet has combined for four losses, and Trego is 10-0. The girls’ tournament started in 1976. Norton won last season, and TMP the previous four. Trego has never won the tournament. Hoxie is transitioning to the MCL this year.
Class 5A: Hays High boys look to continue streak; Colby/Scott City girls with possible 3A rematch
The 35th annual Colby Orange and Black tournament features Colby and Scott City girls on opposite sides of the bracket. Colby girls (9-0) are third in 3A, and Scott City (7-1) in fourth in 3A. Both teams are in the GWAC and in the same Cimarron sub-state. Colby defeated Scott City, 52-49, on the road.
As well, Hays High boys and Beloit are on the same side and could meet in the semifinals. Beloit (6-1) is the defending 3A state runner-up to Girard and is currently ranked sixth in 3A.
Hays High is 6-2 in 5A after a 9-12 season last year. HHS has five straight victories, including 64-62 against rival Great Bend on Jan. 14. Beloit has seniors as its top-four scorers, including one of the state’s best players with Vincent Palen at 16.9 points and 3.6 assists a game. Senior Bryce Mason is at 12.6 points and 8.6 rebounds, and senior Hudson Gray has 12.4 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Hays High junior T.J. Nunnery leads the Indians with 11.9 points per contest. Sophomore Carson Kieffer paces HHS with 4.9 assists a game. On Jan. 7, Kieffer teamed up with the 6-foot-2 Nunnery for an alley-oop dunk in a 62-42 Hays High victory. The play has gone viral.
“The play before it was there, and I told him to look for it the next play,” Nunnery said. “It was there, so he just threw it to me, just something that comes out.”
Last year, Nunnery averaged nine points a contest. He comes from a highly athletic family with older brothers Isaiah and Ethan, and Tasiah, currently a senior. Tasiah is the all-time leader in volleyball kills at Hays High and is an Indian basketball starter. Hays High coach Alex Hutchins coached Tasiah last year before he moved to the boys.
Their father, Tim, is a former HHS basketball assistant. Their mother, Christin, is the Indian volleyball coach. Isaiah is on the Indian staff this winter.
“They are just a really genetically blessed family, but they love the game is really the biggest thing, you have got to complement all of them for,” Hutchins said. “I think that love definitely comes from Tim. Tim is a gym rat. Tim watches basketball on TV all the time, and so those guys, they are always talking basketball, watching basketball, playing basketball.
“So it’s just of in their blood,” Hutchins added. “So it’s a blessing to have T.J., and it’s fun to see him kind of settling in and learning how he makes our team go and what his role is, and I see a very bright future.”
Class 1A: Twin Valley League with multiple upsets, including four on the boys’ side
The Twin Valley League had a significant number of upsets in the quarterfinals earlier this week. On the girls’ side, No. 8 seed Frankfort defeated top-seeded Hanover, 44-41. As well, No. 7 Washington County defeated No. 2 Clifton-Clyde, 49-40.
Hanover girls are ranked third in 1A.
On the boys’ side, No. 8 Valley Heights beat No. 1 Blue Valley-Randolph, 53-37. No. 5 Frankfort beat No. 4 Clifton-Clyde, 58-53.
No. 6 Axtell bested No. 3 Washington County, 48-47 behind 24 points from Quinn Buessing.
No. 7 Hanover beat No. 2 Centralia, 56-49.
Class 6A: Campus part of loaded squad at Dodge City TOC
The 77th annual Dodge City Tournament of Champions occurs Thursday through Saturday at United Wireless Arena. The TOC media guide lists the tournament as the longest running boys’ invitational basketball tournament west of the Mississippi.
The field includes Haysville Campus in the top half of the bracket. The bottom half has Manhattan, Bishop Miege, and Wichita Heights. Campus is first in 6A, while Miege is third in 4A. Manhattan is sixth in 6A. This is Campus’ first TOC trip, and Miege’s second. Manhattan has one title in tournament history.