With a third-place finish at last weekend’s Pinnacle Cup Challenge in Worland, the Powell High School boys’ soccer team is off to its best start in years, compiling a 4-1 record to kick off the 2019 season.
The Panthers opened the Worland tournament Friday with wins over Rawlins and Riverton, placing them in Saturday’s semifinals against 3A Northwest rival Worland. A 2-1 stumble against the Warriors dropped Powell into the third place game against 4A Rock Springs, where the Panthers shook off an early 1-0 deficit to net four straight goals in a 4-1 win.
“It would have been nice to win the tournament, but I’m happy with how we played,” said first-year head coach Dave Gilliatt. “It was four games back-to-back. They were shorter halves, but it’s a lot of soccer; player management definitely comes into play. It was pushing guys probably past limits they didn’t know they had. We pushed them pretty hard.”
The Panthers welcome in Pinedale at 5 p.m. Friday for their home opener at Panther Stadium.
Panthers 2, Rawlins 0
A goal apiece from sophomore Landon Sessions and junior Garrett Stutzman and a clean sheet from keeper Ashton Brewer proved to be all the Panthers needed in an opening round contest against Rawlins, blanking the Outlaws 2-0.
“The goal from Landon Sessions was from about half field,” Gilliatt said. “It was a pretty incredible goal, to be honest; it was a good shot.”
Stutzman’s goal was from a similar distance, according to Gilliatt.
“Garrett [Stutzman]’s goal was from about 35 yards out; he just belted it in,” the coach said. “They were good goals. We didn’t work on shooting a lot last week, especially from those distances, so I was impressed with those two shots.”
The Panthers’ defense pitched its second straight shutout.
“We try to keep Ashton [Brewer’s] life as boring as possible back there,” Gilliatt said of his keeper.
Panthers 3, Riverton 2
Powell’s second game of the tournament started much like the previous one ended, with the Panthers taking a 3-0 lead into halftime.
Ernie Acevedo scored the first goal of the contest on a “nice volley outside the box” to put Powell up 1-0. The Wolverines then mishandled a ball in their own box, essentially knocking it in on their own for the game’s second goal. The Panthers’ third and final tally came off the foot of freshman Hawkin Sweeney, off an assist by Kaleb Brown.
“Kaleb Brown delivered a nice low cross, right across the face of the goal, and Hawkin Sweeney just crashed the box and finished it,” Gilliatt said.
With a 3-0 lead in the second half, Gilliatt and assistant coach Russ Schwahn rotated in players to give the starters a break. Riverton scored a pair of late goals to make it close, but the Panthers held on for the win, setting up a semifinal showdown with the host team and conference rival Worland.
Worland 2, Panthers 1
In the semifinals against Worland Saturday morning, the defending 3A state champion Warriors got on the board first, though Powell was able to even the game on a goal by Brown.
“It was almost kind of a cross, but we’ll take it,” Gilliatt said of Brown’s score. “It was a nice goal.”
Worland scored once more before the end of the first half to take a 2-1 lead into the break.
“Worland is a well-rounded team, and they’re well-coached,” Gilliatt said. “They have a good, even spread of talent, some players you have to watch out for. Compliments to them.”
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second half and the Warriors held on for the 2-1 win.
“We tried some different things that game,” Gilliatt said. “But this game showed us what Worland has, and what areas we need to improve. We play them at least two more times this season, so it gave us a good peek into what we have to look forward to.”
Panthers 4, Rock Springs 1
Rock Springs came into Saturday afternoon’s third place contest as one of the top teams in 4A, and the Tigers quickly took a 1-0 lead on a breakaway.
“I knew they [Rock Springs] had fast and talented forwards, and they got a clean breakaway, one-on-one with the keeper and finished it,” Gilliatt said.
Later on in the first half, the Panthers were awarded a free kick from about 40 yards out on the right touch line. Senior Rob Sessions drove it right into the box at the Tigers’ keeper, and fellow senior Steven Shopa headed it in for the score.
“Shopa ran across the face of the goal right at the right time.” Gilliatt said. “It was a perfectly timed run and he redirected the ball with his head ever so slightly and surprised their keeper for the score.”
The second half began with the two teams knotted at 1-1. Gilliatt said he’d challenged his team at halftime to score three more goals and the Panthers did exactly that: Brown, Cameron Wentz and Garrett Morris all found the back of the net to run the score to 4-1.
“I think what I’m happy with is we lost earlier in the day, and we came back and won against a dangerous team,” Gilliatt said. “We were down a goal, and still came back. For me, it showed we can face adversity and overcome it.”
It was another solid outing for a Panther team that so far this season has shown a willingness and desire to do what it takes to win.
“It’s hard to highlight any one player on that defense,” Gilliatt said. “Lane Franks is always giving the team everything he can give. Landon Sessions was fighting a chest cold the whole weekend, and played until he couldn’t breathe, come off for a few minutes, then go back in. Matthew Hobbs, Garrett Stutzman, they gave all they had. Everyone just stepped into their positions. There were four games, and everybody stepped up. I’m not disappointed in anyone.”
Though his team is young, with 18 underclassmen on the varsity roster, Gilliatt said the players bring a strong soccer IQ and athletic ability. That said, there’s always room for improvement, and Gilliatt said Powell won’t take the 1-4 Wranglers lightly on Friday.
“I’m excited for the future with this team,” he said. “This will be our first home game, and we’re not going to overlook them [Pinedale]. We’re going to take them seriously. We’re going to play our game with one outcome in mind, and that’s what we’re going to play for.”