In 1972, Jim Baker took over the Buhler girls’ basketball program. At that point, girls’ basketball had just started, and not many girls had even been on a junior high team.
Baker quickly created a powerhouse. Buhler’s 1973 squad finished 15-1 and won the first girls’ state championship, then Classes 5-4-3A together. The Crusaders earned first again in ’74 with a 16-0 mark.
Then, Buhler took runner-up in ’75 and captured titles in ’76 and ’77. He compiled a 44-game winning streak.
In 1978, a young Bishop Miege coach named Terry English led his alma mater to their first state girls’ crown. English paced the Stags to a 24-0 record and a title over Bishop Carroll in Class 4A. Baker finished his career with six state titles.
The only coaches in Kansas history with more are Aquinas’ Rick Hetzel, who collected his seventh last winter, and English, now with 20, according to well-known Kansas historian Carol Swenson.
Baker’s daughter, Robin, went to Duke and enjoyed a solid career from 1988-92. She played in 82 contests with 70 starts. As a senior, she delivered 11.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Robin and her husband, David, eventually settled in the Kansas City area. Robin has coached at multiple levels, including college and high school, and helps run Next Level Eclipse in Kansas City, an elite club.
They have six children, including daughters Ashton and Payton Verhulst. The close-knit pair is
currently a junior and sophomore at Bishop Miege for English. This winter marks English’s 43rd year on the sidelines. He is 843-165, including a 22-3 team and state runner-up finish to McPherson in Class 4A, Division I last winter.
“Basketball has always been a big thing in my family,” Payton said.
Both girls are highly accomplished athletes. Ashton was a first-team all-state volleyball player this fall and, in 2017, committed to Kansas State University for basketball. The 6-foot-1 Payton is one of the country’s top recruits in the 2021 graduating class.
“The parents keep them grounded,” veteran Miege assistant coach Jeff English said. “They don’t have attitudes. They are coachable. They love playing with their friends. They are not just out there to show for themselves. They want to win as a team and play for the school and play for their parents and play for their friends. It starts with their parents, their parents are just phenomenal people.”
Payton and teammate Faith Hawthorne collected Sports In Kansas co-All Classes Freshman of the Year honors. ESPN Hoopgurlz, the industry leader in women’s basketball recruiting, ranks Payton No. 10 in the 2021 class.
Payton has received offers/interest from virtually every top-20 program in the country. Last year, she delivered 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. Ashton chipped in 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.
Miege’s top-five players have either committed to school for college basketball and/or are receiving significant Division I interest.
“We have many key players returning plus some talented freshmen,” Payton said.
Guard Johnni Gonzalez has already signed with Division I University of California-Santa Barbara. Payton said her role models are her sister and Johnni. Payton’s long-term goal is to teach and coach basketball for Next Level Eclipse.
Miege’s Twitter feed has tracked the number of schools that have watched the Stags in open gym. This fall, that included Duke, Missouri, Oregon, Indiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri State, Oregon State, Drake, Iowa and St. Louis, along with in-state UMKC and Kansas State.
“With Payton especially, it has taken on a different animal with those types of schools that are calling and coming to open gyms and coming to games,” Jeff English said. “It’s shows a lot for our program, for Payton, for Faith, for all those kids, for Johnni.”
This season, Payton would like to win the Class 4A championship. Before last year, Miege had captured four straight titles. Outside of the high school season, her goal is to make the USA Under-16 squad for summer 2019.
Verhulst greatly enjoys playing for English and calls him a “legend.”
“He is also very inspiring,” Verhulst said. “He is such a great coach, and I have learned so much from him not only as a player, but as a person, too. In that sense, I have been extremely lucky to have such great high school coaches and club coaches. All trying to push me to be the best I can be, but also very concerned about me becoming a good person in life.”
She has a 97 overall score by ESPN with a No. 4 position rank. In June, ESPN noted Verhulst is a “skilled guard with backcourt versatility, manufactures shots and executes in half-court game.”
“One of the things that makes me such a force as a player is that I’m able to be a versatile player, playing multiple positions,” Verhulst said. “In addition, having the ability to adjust to different situations and teammates is a positive.”
The past two summers, she went to the Blue Star 30 event in Washington D.C. and Las Vegas. Last year, he attended the USA U-17 team trials in Colorado Springs.
“This was such a valuable experience, because I was able to make several selection rounds, and it helped me understand that I was able to compete with the best players in the country,” she said. “Hoping to get the opportunity to get back to Colorado Springs in 2019 for the USA U16 team trials.”
This feature is presented by Bishop Miege High School Girls Basketball and Next Level Eclipse Basketball. Best of luck to Payton and her teammates this season!
How did you get involved in basketball?
My family has always been big basketball fans and both of my parents played in college so I believe that rubbed off on me a little bit. My grandpa was a long time high school girls basketball coach at Buhler High School…basketball has always been a big thing in my family.
What are your goals this season?
One goal I have for this high season is for my team to win a 4A state championship. Outside of the high school season, a goal is to make the USA U16 team in summer 2019.
Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?
Yes, we have many key players returning plus some talented freshmen.
What makes you such a force as a player?
One of the things that makes me such a force as a player is that I’m able to be a versatile player, playing multiple positions. In addition, having the ability to adjust to different situations and teammates is a positive. I am passionate about the game and just love to get on the floor and play and win!
What’s the atmosphere like to play basketball for your school and town?
The atmosphere at Bishop Miege is absolutely a unique and wonderful environment. We have great support from our school, community, and alumni. Miege is really a special place!
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?
Why come to a Miege game? Great atmosphere, great players, great coaches, historic program! (And great popcorn!)
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
Strengths are versatility, good basketball IQ, competitive drive, connection with my teammates.
Things I need to work on are getting stronger and getting my shot release up higher.
Who are other key players on your team?
We have most of our returning key players from last year, plus some good young talent.
Favorite thing about basketball?
Everything! Maybe being able to connect with people. Not just as friends, but when you make a perfect play in a game and both you and your teammates realize it. Then you give each other that look and to me that is the best feeling in the world.
Do you play any other sports, tell us about that, what other positions do you play?
I play volleyball and I am an outside hitter.
What is it like to play for your coach?
Really nerve racking sometimes because Coach English is a legend at Miege. But he is also very inspiring. He is such a great coach and I have learned so much from him not only as a player, but as a person too. In that sense, I have been extremely lucky to have such great high school coaches and club coaches. All trying to push me to be the best I can be, but also very concerned about me becoming a good person in life. Helping me understand the things I need to work on to become a better player, helping me set goals personally, and helping me understand how much hard work it takes to accomplish those goals.
What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better?
We had weights and conditioning over the summer in addition to playing a couple summer tournaments together in June. This fall we had open gyms and played in fall league games. Starting in October we have added conditioning again.
One of my club coaches, Jon Lewis, is very good about opening the gym for us to work with him anytime. He is such a great teacher of the game and has helped me fine tune my fundamentals and skills.
What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?
Fortunately I am lucky enough to receive offers or interest from most of the top ranked college programs at the Division 1 level. One thing I have discovered in this process is that there are a lot of great teams, coaches, and programs out there. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that basketball has given me.
My club coaches have been very helpful in getting me several opportunities that have made it possible for a lot of exposure. The past two summers have been spent at the Blue Star 30 event in Washington D.C. and Las Vegas. Competed in the FIBA 3x3 competition in Las Vegas and because we won our qualifying bracket will compete in the FIBA finals in Colorado Springs in the spring of 2019. Last year I was able to attend the USA U17 team trials in Colorado Springs. This was such a valuable experience because I was able to make several selection rounds and it helped me understand that I was able to compete with the best players in the country. Hoping to get the opportunity to get back to Colorado Springs in 2019 for the USA U16 team trials.
Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?
Hang out with my friends and watch Netflix.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to become a teacher and coach basketball for the club I play with right now, Next Level Eclipse.
Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?
Favorite subject is Math, I enjoy school and am a good student. Not sure my GPA….my mom probably knows.
Who is your role model?
My high school and club teammate Johnni Gonzalez and my sister Ashton.
Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?
Probably Kansas City Joe's (BBQ)
One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?
That I love to sing Disney songs!