With the holidays in the rearview mirror, the Powell High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams will begin their assault on 2019 with renewed focus. They host Rocky Mountain High School on Friday in the Panther Gym.
Panthers head coach Chase Kistler and Lady Panthers head coach Scott McKenzie agreed the games against Rocky Mountain will be an excellent way to begin 2019, against teams very familiar with one another.
Kistler called the Class 2A Grizzlies a “well-coached team, really well disciplined,” and Powell will have to stay disciplined, as well.
“The Rocky game, even though it’s an inter-class game, it’s still kind of a rivalry, because these guys have played against each other since they were kids,” Kistler said. “They know each other, they know each other’s ins and outs, so it gives it a rivalry feel. They just know each other so well, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
After starting the season 0-3, the 3A Panthers are on a roll of late, entering the holiday break with huge wins over 4A cross-county rival Cody on the road and over third-ranked 2A powerhouse Wyoming Indian at home.
“I think my team is playing really well right now, though there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Kistler said. “But I like the energy and the hustle they’ve been showing, as well as their willingness to be coachable.”
The Panthers have shown a willingness to play unselfish basketball, as well as a penchant for keeping their foot on the gas late in the game. Along with a talented group of starters — including seniors Carson Heinen, Kaelan Groves, William Preator and Dalton Woodward — Kistler has been getting good minutes from his bench. Role players like Carson Olsen, Landon Lengfelder and Mason Marchant have made the most of their playing opportunities.
“I’m really pleased with our execution; we execute really well,” Kistler said. “We get points out of most possessions, and that’s been a big difference from last year, when we had a lot of empty possessions.”
An equal distribution of points has also been a pleasant surprise this season. More often than not, it’s not just one player with the hot hand.
“You watch a lot of teams, and you see they have one or two guys that are scoring a lot of their points,” Kistler said. “This last game [against Wyoming Indian], almost everyone in the scorebook contributed, with a bunch of guys averaging around that seven to 10 points range, including guys off the bench. That is really hard to defend.”
After starting the season 2-1, the Lady Panthers have struggled to find a rhythm, dropping their last two games to Cody and Wyoming Indian. Coach McKenzie called the competition his team faced in the season’s first five games the toughest in recent memory and he believes the team will be better for it.
“Though our record doesn’t show it, that schedule is going to pay off for us down the road as we hit January,” he said. “We are excited to grab another gear now and increase our tempo of play and intensity on defense. Rocky will be a good game for us on Friday.”
The senior-laden Lady Panthers, led by the one-two scoring punch of seniors Rachel Bonander and Aubrie Stenerson, came into the season with high expectations following a third-place finish at state last year. McKenzie said the team was able to hit the ground running, and he’s been very impressed with how the team is playing defensively.
“We’ve held some pretty high-powered offenses to their lowest point totals of the season,” he said. “We held Douglas and Wyoming Indian to their lowest output, so we’re pretty pleased there.”
Offensively, McKenzie said the Lady Panthers aren’t quite clicking like they want to, but based on the effort he’s seen in practices over the holidays, that should change.
“I think our offense is getting ready to take off for us,” he said. “We’ve talked about roles, and the girls really seem to be buying into those roles. We’ll see how it goes this weekend.”
Powell committed 31 turnovers against Wyoming Indian, a stat McKenzie said the team has made a priority to change dramatically. Powell and Rocky Mountain will host the Big Horn Basin Classic next weekend, and there’s a chance the Lady Panthers have a chance for a rematch with the Lady Chiefs.
“Things would have to fall right for both of us,” coach McKenzie explained. “I would like another chance at them; I saw they beat Cody last week, so that tells you how good Wyoming Indian truly is. But 31 turnovers — that’s way too many for having eight seniors.”
The PHS girls tip off against Rocky Mountain High School at 5:30 p.m., with the boys’ game following at 7 p.m.