After trumping the Douglas Bearcats 3-1 last week, the Lady Panther soccer team is headed to the state tournament in Sheridan.
“That’s the first time all season long that the team played [how] I know that they could play; I knew it in my heart, that they are just a talented group of girls, and to see it all come together was just awesome,” said Powell High School head girls soccer coach Jack Haire.
Throughout the season, the team has been injury-riddled, with players having to bounce from position to position.
“I am just so excited to have the team physically together, all healthy, for the most [part], everyone is healthy and it’s shown and we’re not done yet,” Haire said. “The season is just now beginning.”
PHS will face Lander to open the state tournament on Thursday morning.
“We weren’t able to go last year, so it feels good to pull together and make it back this year,” senior Kiley Cannon said of qualifying for the state championships. “We’ve had a few rocky games, but this game [against Douglas], we were able to talk more and do more of what we have been talking about and actually play soccer.”
In Friday’s win over the Lady Bearcats — played in Worland — Powell drew first blood.
“They were fired up; they knew they could win the game,” Haire said. “Their confidence level was so high and they put in the work all season long. They put in the effort and, to me, it’s fruiting, it’s showing.”
Senior Kayla Atkinson scored the first goal in the first half, with an assist by freshman Michele Wagner.
Atkinson said it felt amazing to play a part in the win.
“I’m so proud of my team; this is the best we have played all year long,” she said. “I think that peak happened at this game and it’s just an amazing feeling that we’re going to state as a team and that everyone is going to be great there, just as we were here.”
The goal for the girls soccer team all season long has been to win the play-in game to make it to the state championships.
Having accomplished the goal, coach Haire at first didn’t know what to say.
“Unexplainable, I’m grateful.” Haire said with a little chuckle on Saturday. “I can’t explain it. It’s an amazing feeling, you know, to just sit back and look from last season to throughout this season and to have a goal in mind and a game plan, confidence and just a sheer desire. It’s pretty amazing. I’m a blessed man today.”
Douglas didn’t make it easy. The Bearcats also scored a goal to make the score 1-1 at halftime.
But in the second half, the Lady Panthers held the Lady Bearcats scoreless while scoring two more of their own.
Atkinson scored the second goal, once again assisted by Wagner. Treva Robson scored the third, with assist by Sadie Wenzel.
“Part of the mindset was we needed to hit them and hit hard,” coach Haire said of the game strategy. “I kept telling them we needed to play like a freight train, we had to play physical aggressive soccer the entire game. Douglas beat us up the last time we played them.”
Powell had four injuries the first time the two teams met.
“I knew [Douglas] wanted to be physical, the only way you can beat them is to be a freight train and they came right out and did it. It was so fun to watch,” said Haire.
Melynda Davison was the goalkeeper and had 19 saves.
“Super proud of our goalie,” said Atkinson who went on to say that Davison “punched one right over the top which I think carried us. And probably if she had let that one [in], it would have brought all the morales down. She carried us, definitely.”
Coach Haire said it was the “perfect time” for his squad to peak. The strategy that he and assistant coach Stan Hedges had the whole year was to be “full-throttle” by the time the team reached the play-in game — referencing the motocross concept of “pin it to win it.”
“We got two more or four more games to play and so we’re going to keep it pinned the whole way through,” Haire said.
The Lady Panthers will first take on the Lady Tigers on Thursday at 9 a.m. in Sheridan.
Powell has not played Lander the past couple seasons.
“We don’t know much about them, but ... I believe we have a winnable game, so we’re going to put forth all the effort and energy the players have and I have on Lander,” Haire said. “And hopefully we’ll come out with a win.”
A win would put PHS in a game at 2 p.m. Friday, while a loss will put them in a game slated for 9 a.m. Friday.
“I’m just so proud of these girls. I am one of the most blessed men,” Haire said. “To be able to go and watch these girls mature and be coachable girls and to be able to put up with all the injuries and the fighting and the pain, the struggles — all of it.”
Coach Haire recalled a comment that Meg Hanlin made last season — one that he believes will stick with him his whole life.
“She said, ‘Coach, if we don’t know how to lose, if we don’t know how to deal with losing, we will never know how to win and how to deal with winning.’ And I believe that last year taught us all a huge lesson and we learned how to lose last year and this year, we are learning how to win and win gracefully and win with pride,” Coach Haire said. “We’re proud of our accomplishments. I feel that we’ve had an amazing season, simply amazing.”
After accomplishing the season goal of making it to the state championship, the new goal is win the first game.
“This soccer team has pulled together to win as a team, not individually. Yes, individually you have a job to do, but as a team they had to play good soccer, fundamental soccer, and they did it,” Haire said.
Senior Malory Triplett said it’s an “amazing feeling getting to go to state.”
“My last couple sports seasons have been a little rough and so to have some success with this one is amazing,” Triplett said. “We have a great coaching staff and a great group of girls and I couldn’t ask for a better team.”
By making it to state, Powell’s girls are now in the top eight in the state.
“That’s pretty dang cool!” Haire said, chuckling.
A full tournament bracket is available at www.whsaa.org.