After a slow start to the 2018 season, the Powell High School boys’ soccer team demonstrated a gritty resolve, improving with each game and earning a trip to the state tournament in Jackson last month.
Though the Panthers’ experience in Jackson was less than memorable, head coach Jeff Dent said the team did plenty to be proud of this season. With just three players lost to graduation, the foundation has been laid for next year’s team to make some noise in Class 3A West.
“We did have a young team,” Dent said. “I expected [at the start of the season] with our skill level to step in and play competitively. But I learned the difference between a freshman and a senior in high school, in both physical and mental maturity. But for the other side of that coin, to see my players toward the end of the season stepping up and doing what they need to do to give themselves a chance to win, that was encouraging for the future of the program.”
“All of the ups and downs were worth it,” the coach said.
The Panthers recently held their Awards Night, recognizing new and returning letter winners and handing out team awards. Senior defender Jace Smith, voted MVP by his teammates, was also recognized for a pair of post-season honors, named to the 3A West All-Conference and All-State teams, the only Panther named to either team. Though used primarily as a defender, Smith proved to be a multi-faceted option for Dent, who would at times shift Smith up front to keep opponents off-balance.
“Jace is a very competitive young man who goes very hard, 100 percent, all of the time,” Dent said. “He get a little frustrated when the other players don’t, which is a good thing, because he pushes them. He knew where every player should be in a given situation, and that’s what I needed on the field, his ability and maturity.”
Calling him “a captain and definitely a general on the field,” Dent said Smith’s talent and leadership will be missed.
“Having that leadership is something as a coach you get used to,” he said. “He [Smith] has been a valuable asset. I’m going to miss that young man.”
Smith, who is headed to the University of Wyoming in the fall, said the recognition was an excellent way to cap off his high school career.
“I worked pretty hard, especially when I was younger, so to be recognized like that meant quite a bit,” Smith said. “I lot of what I learned was from Coach [Travis] Rapp my freshman and sophomore year, he really helped me into the player that I became.”
As the only senior on the squad with substantial varsity experience this season, Smith said this year was a learning experience, for him as a leader and for the team as a whole.
“They [the Panthers] will be just fine, especially as they get older,” Smith said. “They’ll have a good team.”
Midfielder Ernie Acevedo was voted most inspirational by his teammates, an honor Dent said was well-deserved.
“Ernie [Acevedo] is a busy young man with a lot going on. His brain is always thinking; he’s always moving.” Dent said. “He and I had a conversation at the beginning of the season, and I told him I need him to be a motivator: ‘Inspire them, make them laugh, do what you have to do.’ When the guys voted him in, I was not surprised. He made himself a presence. He’s not only a good soccer player, he brings the guys together and has fun with them.”
Freshman Adrian Geller was named most improved, something Dent said was impressive considering the young forward hadn’t played a lot of soccer prior to this season.
“He [Geller] has learned how to see the field and make things happen out there,” Dent said. “I was subbing him in on midfield wing, which is a difficult job with a lot of running. You have to make passes and make them fast, and he was doing that.”
Dent said Geller gained more confidence handling the ball as the season progressed, and the coach expects good things moving forward.
“He’s going to be unbelievable by the time he gets to be a senior, controlling that ball and working it down the sides,” Dent said.
This year featured a coach’s award, chosen by the coaching staff for a player exhibiting exceptional play, on and off the field. Junior Steven Shopa was the recipient of this year’s honor.
“Every night after soccer, Steven [Shopa] was out practicing,” Dent said. “He was always encouraging his teammates to be better. That young man is amazing. His skill levels have increased, as his mental knowledge of the game. Luckily I have him for another year. He’ll be one of the guys that steps into Jace [Smith]’s shoes as a leader for this team.”
This season’s first-year letter winners included Sam Bauer, Ashton Brewer, Caesar Corro, Lane Franks, Austin Haslem, Grant Jeide, Noah Ouelette, Jack Pool, Rob Sessions, Landon Sessions, Shopa, Jesse Trotter and Geller.
Repeat letter winners included Acevedo, Smith, Gabe Katz, Dylan Lowery, Garrett Stutzman and Cameron Wentz.