So far this year in the McPherson High-Buhler athletic rivalry, things mostly have gone the Bullpups’ way.
MHS dominated the fall sports, punctuated by a pair of football victories, including the memorable overtime game in the playoffs.
And the winter started with a bang as the MHS wrestling team rolled to a victory over the Crusaders.
The two rivals will hook up in another event on Tuesday when the basketball Bullpups kick off 2018 by hosting the Crusaders at what should be a rocking Roundhouse as sports fans are probably itching to get out to an event after a two-week layoff.
The girls tip off the action at 6 p.m., with the boys to follow around 7:30. For those who don’t want to get out in the cold, you can listen by your fireplaces to 96.7 KBBE-FM with Voice of the Bullpups Jim Joyner on the call.
The McPherson girls will be a heavy favorite as the Crusaders are still looking for their first win of the year. The Bullpups won all three meetings last year, including a 65-17 sub-state rout.
Prior to the Christmas break, the Bullpups were 5-1, the only loss coming to No. 1-ranked Bishop Miege after the teams were tied with 5 minutes to go. Two of their wins were against ranked teams Derby and Abilene.
"We had a really good three days of practice after Christmas, it took us a while to get going on Thursday as I think we all needed just to wake up a bit from a nice holiday break," MHS coach Chris Strathman said. "The girls worked hard physically and mentally as we have tried to keep them sharp with some new things that we wanted to look at. We are excited to play Buhler as we know they will be gunning for us, so we will need to be ready. They are still a relatively young bunch, but should be getting more comfortable with the system of their new coach."
MHS' Taylor Robertson has gotten off to a strong start, averaging 25.7 points, including two games of at least 30. Riley Hett is next in line at 8.8 and the rest of the offense has been balanced.
Strathman also gave an update on injured All-Stater Mandi Cooks, whose availability at some point this year is still unknown.
"Mandi has been released to begin easing back into our drills," Strathman said. "She still hasn't done very much at all and definitely no contact stuff yet, but what she has been able to try. I would say it has been encouraging to see. She has worked very hard on her rehab and has kept a good attitude even though I know it has been very frustrating for her along with missing volleyball. I am anxious to see her back on the floor and I am confident she will be able to help us this year, just no definite timeframe yet for her return to game action."
The boys’ game should be highly competitive. While the Crusaders surprisingly have lost two games — one to Augusta and the other to Newton — they are regarded as a potential Top 10 team in Class 4A Division I.
Big 6-8 center Grant Owens leads the way, while football standouts Dalton Smyres, Dylan Brown and Dalton Brown are all capable. Dalton Brown did not play last year, but has returned to provide some firepower.
"Buhler has 6-8 Grant Owens, so that immediately presents different challenges than everyone else we have played except Miege," MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said. "Dalton and Dylan Brown are both good shooters if you let them set their feet and they are both capable of driving the ball as well. Smyres is an excellent athlete. We have practiced well over the break and are ready to get back into the swing of things. The pre-tournament games take on extra importance with so many teams having glossy records. Hopefully the cold weather and the early date of the game will not take away from the rivalry type atmosphere that we have come to love with the Buhler game."
Like the girls, the boys’ only loss is a 2-pointer to No. 1-ranked Bishop Miege and since then MHS had destroyed everything in its path. The Bullpups crushed Andover in their final game before Christmas and two days later the Trojans knocked off highly regarded Andover Central, a team thought by many to perhaps be the third-best in Class 4A Division I.
The Bullpups have been riding their Big 3 hard as Ben Pyle averages 23 points a game, Mason Alexander checks in at 17 and Jake Alexander is at 14.3.
MHS goes on the road on Friday to take on Circle.