The Powell High School boys’ soccer team shook off a 2-1 home loss to Cody on Thursday to finish the week on a high note, righting the ship with a 3-1 win at Douglas.
The win against the Bearcats brings the Panthers’ record to 6-2 overall, 1-1 in the 3A West.
“Overall, I was happy with the result,” first-year head coach Dave Gilliatt said of last week’s contests. “We had a few guys back for the Douglas game that were out sick against Cody, so that definitely helped. We made some adjustments from Thursday to Saturday, and it seemed to work out well.”
After losing a heartbreaker to Cody Thursday, Gilliatt was curious to see how his squad would respond. He didn’t have to wait long, as the Panthers returned to the form that has them ranked as one of the top teams in 3A. Powell beat Douglas (2-5, 0-1 in 3A East) on the road, 3-1.
The key to the game, according to Gilliatt, was passing — something Powell has been working to improve all season.
“With only a day of practice in between the Cody and Douglas games, we more than anything reviewed what didn’t work for us and what did,” he explained. “We emphasized playing our game, and not playing the style our opponents are playing. We worked on passing through our midfield and being more patient.”
Gilliatt said the Panthers were still playing a little rushed during the first half of the Douglas contest, but that changed as the game progressed.
“Our shot selection was not as good as it could have been, I think our guys were thinking, ‘I’ve got to shoot, I’ve got to shoot,’” Gilliatt said. “So we emphasized making one extra pass, and we started getting better quality shots after that. That was a big difference-maker right there. That was the best game passing-wise we’ve had to date.”
Freshman Hawkin Sweeney took advantage of the Panthers’ shot opportunities in the first half, scoring a pair of goals to give Powell a 2-0 halftime lead.
“Hawkin scored his first goal on an assist from Cameron Wentz,” Gilliatt said. “His second goal, he just dribbled through and shot at a really tight angle, almost from the sideline. It went off the keeper and went in.”
Douglas got on the board in the second half, a score Gilliatt attributed to “a lapse of concentration on our guys.”
“They had a free kick from outside the box and punched it in,” he said. “Our guys let it bounce around the penalty spot, and I think everyone thought someone else would get it. It was like a free shot and they made it.”
Senior captain Steven Shopa scored an insurance goal shortly after the Bearcats scored to put Powell ahead 3-1.
“Someone else took a shot on goal, and the keeper kind of spilled it,” Gilliatt said. “Shopa came in and finished it, cleaned it up. It was a good finish, and I was glad for him, because I just made him, Garrett Stutzman and Sam Bauer captains this week. I wanted him to have a good week, and that reemphasized why he’s a captain. He worked hard, had a good game.”
The return of freshman midfielder Garrett Morris, who sat out the Cody game due to illness, added a level of stability.
Bauer missed both the Douglas and Cody games, with the sophomore battling the same bug that sidelined Morris. The two underclassmen have been a vital part of the team’s early success.
“Garrett Morris just provides a lot of creativity to the midfield; he provides an anchor for the other midfielders and wingers,” Gilliatt said. “He helps everyone know where they need to be. He’s good positionally, and is a good communicator. And he breaks up a lot of passes that come through the middle. If Garrett isn’t there, I’d want Sam Bauer to be there. ... We didn’t have either of them against Cody, so that was rough.”
Despite missing several starters due to illness, the Panthers played their cross-county rivals tough, just missing on a couple of late scoring opportunities before falling to the Broncs 2-1.
“Take nothing away from Cody, they’re a good team and they did what they needed to do to win,” Gilliatt said. “There was a lot of build-up to this game, so to let it get by us was a little disappointing.”
The Panthers controlled the action from the start, creating a number of scoring opportunities in the game’s opening minutes, though they were unable to convert. Cody (4-4, 2-1 in 3A West) finally broke the stalemate in the game’s 12th minute, scoring the only goal in the first half to take a 1-0 lead.
Panther forward Cameron Wentz brought the game back to even at the 46 minute mark, scoring on an assist from Landon Sessions.
“Landon played a nice lob to the middle that Cameron was able to make a play on,” Gilliatt said. “It was a nice goal for us.”
Wentz had another look just a few minutes later to give the Panthers the lead, but a nice play by the Broncs’ keeper kept the ball out of the net. Cody scored the gamewinner in the 57th minute, and the first round for Park County bragging rights went to the Broncs.
“We let far too many balls bounce,” Gilliatt said following the game. “We need to start winning more balls in the air. That is definitely something we’ll have improved on the next time we face Cody.”
The Panthers are off until Monday, April 15, when they welcome Riverton to Panther Stadium. It will be another busy week for the team, as they travel to Worland on Thursday, April 18, to take on the top-ranked team in 3A. Powell will also have a guest assistant coach for a couple of days this week, as Ben McArthur, the new men’s coach at Northwest College, will be helping out at practice, bringing along some of his players, as well.
“I think it’s important to keep that connection with the college programs going for the younger kids,” Gilliatt said. “It’s a great resource to have, and I think it’s mutually beneficial. The players on both levels benefit from the experience, and hopefully we can become a team that feeds into the college.”