The Powell High School boys soccer team opened the 2018 season losing a 3-2 thriller to visiting Pinedale before suffering an 8-0 rout to Star Valley the same weekend.
Powell vowed to be more competitive the next time around, and was exactly that last weekend, racking up four goals in the second half of a 9-4 loss at Star Valley Friday, before shutting out Pinedale 5-0 on Saturday.
“... The trip had its ups and downs. Overall, though, it was a very good weekend,” said Powell head coach Jeff Dent. “Our goal-scoring has definitely turned around. We’ve been pushing for goals, and the guys were going for it. It was good to see.”
Star Valley 9, Panthers 4
Since their opening-weekend win against Powell, Star Valley has compiled an 11-3-1 record and secured a No. 2 ranking in the state. Dent knew his team would have its hands full when the two squared off Friday at Star Valley.
“Star Valley is a good, quality team,” he said. “They play a really good possession game, just like us, and they’re very quick; they make things happen. I think we got knocked on our heels again a little bit. We didn’t come out quite as strong as we would have liked.”
The Panthers had difficulty finding an answer for Star Valley senior Noah Hutchinson, who had a day for the books, scoring five goals while assisting on two others.
“Hutchinson is just an awesome soccer player,” Dent said. “He’s very good with the ball on his feet. He was their dominant force, he was everywhere. He doesn’t quit running. We’d put guys on him and he’d get around them.”
Despite Hutchinson’s heroics, the Panthers were down just 3-0 at half. The Braves opened the second half the same way they opened the first, scoring in the frame’s first 20 seconds and continuing to find the back of the net on keeper Ashton Brewer. Brewer finally found a rhythm in net, and as his play improved, the Panthers’ offense came alive. Dent subbed in some players, and it seemed to be the spark Powell needed to finish strong.
“I put Dylan Lowery in, and all weekend long, that boy played intense,” Dent said. “He played like he had nothing to lose, and I was happy to see that.”
Junior Rob Sessions scored a pair of goals for the Panthers, while Landon Sessions and Carson Wentz netted a goal apiece.
“Landon Sessions had an awesome goal from the top of the 18,” Dent said. “It was a couple of inches off the ground and just hard and solid. Cameron Wentz put one in also — it was the first goal for Cameron on the year. Cameron’s a shooter, so having him start making goals is going to be a big encouragement.”
Coming off concussion protocol earlier in the week, Brewer got off to a shaky start in net for the Panthers. After facing a whirlwind of shots in the first half and a good portion of the second, the sophomore keeper showed some grit in shutting the Braves down late, carrying that determination into the Pinedale game the next day.
“Ashton [Brewer] was getting mad at himself, and I was contemplating putting Gabe Katz in,” Dent said. “But in response to his own anger, he just stepped up and played much more aggressively. You saw a change in his style, and he became the Ashton you saw before his concussion.”
“The boys were pumped up at the end of that game,” Dent added. “They seemed to have realized how playing together was really going to make a huge difference going into the Pinedale game.”
Panthers 5, Pinedale 0
In Saturday’s game at Pinedale, Panther forward Rob Sessions continued his assault on the opposing net, notching a hat trick en route to 5-0 shutout of the Wranglers 3-12, 0-4).
“The main thing we’ve been focusing on recently is the mental game,” Dent said. “We talked to them in warmups about preparing themselves in their heads, and they seemed to take it to heart. When the game started, they came out good and strong.”
Rob Sessions scored two goals in the first half for the Panthers (3-8-2, 0-3), and had a number of shots on goal that just missed.
“The guys were getting the ball up front and really pumping it,” Dent said. “Pinedale has an excellent midfield, and it didn’t take too long for our guys to see that. When they got the ball, our guys were ready for that pass and cut it off a lot of the time. That really helped us.”
The Panthers scored three goals in the second half — one by Sessions to complete his hat trick, and a goal apiece from Ernie Acevedo and Sam Bauer. After Bauer’s goal, Dent moved him back to defense and put Jace Smith up front, a strategy he incorporated in an earlier game.
“Unfortunately Jace [Smith] couldn’t get a goal, but I think it was a good experience for him, seeing how different it is playing as a forward,” the coach said. “He definitely played hard.”
Brewer recorded a shutout in net for the Panthers, and Dent said his keeper had the right mindset for the contest.
“Ashton [Brewer] wasn’t afraid to come out of the box and challenge the Pinedale forwards,” Dent said. “He wasn’t afraid, he got through and he took care of business.”
Next up for the Panthers is a rematch against Cody today (Tuesday) to close out the regular season. The Broncs won the first meeting 2-0 in Cody, but Dent believes his team matches up well with their cross-county rivals. Gametime is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Panther Stadium.
“We’ll keep working on finishing drills, but our strategy will stay the same,” Dent said. “It should be a good contest.”