After a slow start to begin the 2018 campaign, the Powell High School Boys’ soccer team showed steady improvement as the regular season wore on. That culminated in a overtime shootout thriller against Douglas that propelled the young team to an improbable state tournament berth in Jackson.
But the Panthers found out quickly just how competitive state tournament play can be, losing in the opening round in a 6-0 rout to Rawlins on Thursday. Then on Friday, facing a talented Torrington team that had pushed eventual champion Worland to an overtime shootout, Powell’s scoring woes continued; the team ended its season on a 4-0 loss.
“Being a competitor, I’m a little bummed that we lost both of our games,” said Powell head coach Jeff Dent. “I think the guys were a little shell-shocked how hard those other teams will play, especially when it comes to state.”
Rawlins 6, Panthers 0
The Panthers (4-11-2) came out lethargic to open Thursday’s contest and Rawlins (9-9-1) took advantage, scoring three goals in the first 20 minutes of play. Freshman keeper Ashton Brewer was peppered with shots the entire first half, and the Outlaws held a 5-0 lead at the break. The Panthers were able to create a few scoring opportunities, but unable to find the back of the net.
“Same old story: first half we weren’t there like we should be; the second half, we finally woke up and played,” said Dent. “We weren’t finishing. We had opportunities that first half to make scores, we just weren’t getting them in again. We work on it and work on it, and it works great in practice. We just can’t get it to translate in the game.”
The Panthers were able to regroup a bit at halftime, coming out for the second half with a much-needed spark. The defense began working with each other as a unit, pushing the ball up to the midfielders and controlling the action. Though they never quite found their groove, Powell held Rawlins scoreless until the final three minutes. Brayan Sanchez and Gerardo Lopez netted a pair of goals apiece to lead the way for the Outlaws, who beat Lander 2-1 for third place in the tournament,
“Overall, I was happy with the team, they played the whole game,” Dent said of his squad. “We didn’t play bad, we were controlling the field, mostly. But then they would make their breaks, split our defense. Trying to fix things back there just wasn’t happening.”
Torrington 4, Panthers 0
The Panthers took nearly a dozen shots against Torrington in Friday’s loser-out game, but “we just couldn’t get them in,” Dent said. “That was tough.”
“We played a little bit better, but Torrington has a young man named Nathan Stitt, and he is a goal-scoring machine,” the coach said. “We had a guy on him the entire game, and we still couldn’t really shut him down.”
Stitt torched the Panthers for a hat trick, scoring three of the Trailblazers’ four goals in the contest.
“He [Stitt] scored fairly early in the game, and you could see the boys just kind of get down on themselves,” Dent said of his squad. “They were tired; I wish I would have had a few more subs. It was tough, but they kept playing and fighting.”
The Panther boys created opportunities, as evidenced by their 11 shots on goal. Torrington employed a boot-and-chase strategy to capitalize on their speed, though Dent said the defense was able to adjust.
“I thought we held them pretty good,” he said. “Their defense wasn’t as strong as we’ve seen from other teams, but in the air, they were really good. If you put the ball in the air, they did a nice job of getting under it and heading it back up the field.”
Desperate for a score, the Panthers continued to press, but to no avail.
Powell’s defense played solid, despite the four goals allowed. Landon Sessions and Adrian Geller played center wing and both played very well, according to Dent.
“They [Sessions and Geller] did a nice job of working the ball up and down the side,” he said. “They were dropping the ball back to Jack Pool when they needed to, and Jack has become a very solid defensive player. I was very impressed with what those guys were doing on the side.”
“Eleven shots on net is not a lot for a team like Torrington; our defense wasn’t really the problem,” Dent said. “After you get a couple of goals scored on you, the mental strain becomes significant. The boys felt that, and it made a difference.”
Despite a disappointing end to the season, Dent pointed to the many positives he saw as a coach since the first game against Pinedale in March.
“Compared to that Pinedale game, there was a very different team out on that pitch playing [against Torrington],” Dent said. “I was talking to a couple of the other coaches, and they were very complimentary with what the boys are doing and how much better they were playing. They said, ‘Next year, we’re going to be having to watch you, your guys are stepping up.’ It’s very encouraging to hear that from coaches you respect. When I look at it that way, we’ve accomplished a lot this year.”
With just three seniors lost to graduation, Dent said he’s excited to see how his “youth movement” progresses in the coming years.
“The young guys have now seen what it takes to compete; they’ve got some experience under their belt,” he said. “They’re stepping up, and we’re going to be building on that next year. They’ve turned a corner on believing soccer is a serious sport.”
As for his seniors — Jace Smith, Gabe Katz and Cesar Corro — Dent said the three provided solid leadership to the young team, and will be missed.
“Losing Jace [Smith] is a sad situation. He’s a very competitive young man and was able to build the team with knowledge that he had and his desire to play hard,” Dent said. “Gabe [Katz], I wasn’t starting him as much as I used to, but he was still a leader on the sidelines, talking up his teammates and giving strategy advice to Ashton [Brewer].”
Dent told Corro on the bus ride home that he wished Corro had started playing earlier, but was glad to have him with the Panthers.
“Cesar [Corro] was a great young man to have on the team,” Dent said. “He was usually smiling, always working hard. He was a very positive guy.”