by Todd Habiger
ROELAND PARK — He makes no bones about it.
When asked how current Bishop Miege basketball player Payton Verhulst stacks up against all the players he’s coached in his legendary career, Miege head coach Terry English says simply, “She’s the best.”
“She’s 6’2”. She can be a point guard. She can be a center. She can be a forward. She can play anywhere because she is so versatile. I would have to say she’s the best player we’ve ever coached at Miege,” English said.
English, who recently announced his retirement as head coach of the Miege girls, has seen a lot of great players pass through his program. He’s won 22 state championships (including this year’s), won more than 800 games and coached numerous players who have gone on to play college basketball. So, calling Verhulst the best is high praise indeed.
“Her basketball IQ is off the charts for her age,” he said. “It’s like having another coach on the floor.”
Verhulst has certainly left her mark on girls basketball. She’s won two state championships, was the 2020 Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and was recently named a McDonald’s All-American. She was also named the MVP of the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s Under 16 national team that won the gold medal in Chile.
Keeping it Catholic
Verhulst is a product of Catholic schools. She attended Holy Trinity School in Lenexa for grade school. When it came time to find a high school, Miege stood out for her. She and her older sister shadowed at other Catholic schools, but when they shadowed at Miege, they instantly knew it was the school for them.
“It had everything we wanted — a good mix of academics, athletics, and there was such a strong Catholic presence here,” she said. “I was looking for something that would give me a real-world experience, and Miege can offer that because it’s so diverse and so accepting.”
In addition to giving her a chance to hone her basketball skills, Miege also helped her hone her faith.
“[My faith] has definitely been growing while I’ve been in high school with all the opportunities they offer here,” she said. “I have a long way to go, but I’m happy with where I’m at now.”
One area where she feels she’s made great strides is in her appreciation of confession. Instead of seeing confession as a place to just list her sins, she’s found the sacrament a way to deepen her relationship with God.
Basketball and COVID
After winning the state title in 2019, Miege was primed for a repeat in 2020. After making it to the Kansas Class 4A final four, Miege athletic director Andrew Groene delivered the girls the bad news while they were watching the Miege boys play: The rest of the tournament was being canceled because of COVID concerns.
“I felt so bad for all the seniors. They just played their last high school game and didn’t know it,” Verhulst said.
It was especially heartbreaking for her because her older sister was a senior on the team.
If her 2020 basketball experience taught her anything, it was to never take anything for granted. This year, Miege took all COVID protocols seriously by wearing masks and doing all the right things to ensure that they could complete the season.
“Once we figured out we were going to have a season, we went out and played every game like it could possibly be our last,” Verhulst said.
The girls season ended on March 13 with the Miege girls once again being crowned the Kansas Class 4A state champions with a 51-36 victory over McPherson.
Awards and the future
Over her career, Verhulst has picked up lots of honors. The biggest was being named a McDonald’s All-American — something only one other Kansas girl has done.
But ask her about it and she seems almost embarrassed.
“I love talking to people,” she said, “but I hate the whole attention thing.”
When pressed, Verhulst gives the same answer you’ll hear veteran athletes give.
“It’s such an honor to be in the same category as some of the other women who have been chosen for these awards,” she said.
For English, Verhulst’s answer comes as no surprise.
“She gives all the credit to everybody else and just goes out and plays hard,” he said. “She’s very competitive but she’s the type of kid that just wants to be a part of it and help the other kids be successful.”
As for the future, Verhulst has committed to play basketball at the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky, where she plans to major in special education.
Verhulst is thankful for all that basketball has given her over the years.
“It’s given me the personality that I have and the friends that I have. It’s taught me about aspiration, determination and dedication,” she said. “It’s made me who I am.”