Though the snow on the ground and the chilly temps might indicate otherwise, high school soccer season is set to begin in earnest. Season-opening games are scheduled across the state this weekend, weather permitting.
The Powell High School boys’ soccer team is scheduled to open the 2019 season at 2 p.m. Saturday in Buffalo.
It will be the start of a new era for the Panthers, as first-year head coach Dave Gilliatt takes over the reins of the program from Jeff Dent. Dent stepped down as coach late last year, citing work conflicts.
Gilliatt is a familiar face in the Park County soccer community. A long-time assistant men’s coach at Northwest College, he’s also coached Powell Rec League and Heart Mountain United teams. The Virginia native played college soccer at Southern Virginia University and also played club soccer for Utah State University.
Gilliatt was approached several years ago about the PHS job, but didn’t pursue it at the time due to a busy work schedule and his commitment to the college. But when the position came open again, he decided to give it a go.
“When the opening came about, I had some parents approach me, which was flattering,” Gilliatt said. “I gave it some thought, talked it over with my wife, and once she was on board I went in and applied. And now I feel good about it.”
Despite a small number of practices under their belt, Gilliatt said he’s been able to gauge the skill set of the Panthers.
“Just being here and being a part of the soccer scene has allowed me to have an idea where some of the players are at,” Gilliatt said. “So far, I’d say we’ve got kind of a wide mix of skill level. That’s been a bit of a challenge, running practice sessions that challenge the kids who have a little bit more experience, while also having it be a level that kids with less experience will be able to compete.”
Being able to split the 28 players on the roster into varsity and JV teams will allow the new coach to focus more on improving the more experienced players’ chemistry, while allowing assistant coach Russ Schwahn to focus more on fundamentals, according to Gilliatt. The number of kids on the varsity team will fluctuate, with 15 regular varsity players and three to five who will split time between varsity and JV.
“Even though I’ve got kind of a wide spectrum of players, what we’ve done in the last week and a half is just trying to kill the fundamentals,” he said. “Even with the kids I coached in college, we still hammer the fundamentals. Players come to us incomplete and not as well-rounded as we need them to be, and that’s normal. It’s my job to improve those gaps in their game, and we’re working on those things now.”
Gilliatt has a handful of returning varsity players who will bring experience and leadership to the team, as well as some talented underclassmen he thinks will be able to contribute right away. Returning starters like Rob Sessions and Ashton Brewer will lead a youth movement of players.
“Garrett Morris is a talented freshman, he’s a well-rounded player,” Gilliatt said. “Sam Bauer is another well-rounded player. Landon Sessions [and] a few others are showing they are well-rounded as well.”
When it comes to playing time, Gilliatt said who plays and who doesn’t will be predicated by ability: If you’re good, you’ll play, regardless of your class. Team chemistry and technical ability will also factor in.
“I will play the best team that I have,” he said. “That doesn’t matter if they’re freshmen or they’re seniors; I don’t care. If a freshman is not intimidated and will hang with bigger, stronger, older players, then that’s OK. They’ll play.”
The Panthers finished 4-11-2 last season, but despite their struggles in the win column, were able to qualify for the state tournament. The team only graduated three seniors, so many of this team’s returners do so with state experience.
Heading into the season opener at Buffalo, Gilliatt said he doesn’t know a lot about the Bison except they always field a competitive side. As for the Panthers, the new coach said he’d like to have a number of weapons at his disposal. For additional support, Gilliatt has enlisted the help of some of his NWC players to work with the Panthers, as well.
“My experience has been that most high school teams usually don’t have 11 players that I need to worry about,” he said. “That’s not to sound cocky; it just means you usually just have to focus on one primary threat, and maybe two to three others. I’d like to have more offensive threats than that. That’s kind of my ideal scenario. With Buffalo, we’ll play our game and adapt as we go. I’m confident we’ll be competitive.”