Coming off of a six-win season last winter, members of the Powell Panthers boys basketball team had a surprisingly successful summer.
“We lost two games of the 15 [we played] over the summer league games,” PHS coach Chase Kistler said. “What I found was they were playing more as a team. They were sharing the ball more and that made us more versatile all around. We didn’t rely on one person scoring — the more we shared the ball, the scoring came easier [and] came a lot faster.”
That commitment to teamwork and unselfish play — plus four returnees who played a lot of varsity minutes last season — has Kistler optimistic ahead of Friday’s season opener at the East-West Classic in Buffalo.
“We didn’t lose a whole lot in terms of number of kids that played a lot of minutes,” Kistler said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that did a lot of scoring and rebounding — and played important positions, getting the ball up the court. We’ve got a lot of those parts back this year.”
Leading the returnees is Carson Heinen, who led the Panthers in points (8.4) and rebounds (7.3) per contest last season, and also paced the team with 22 blocked shots.
“Pretty much every year, he’s been in the top eight in rebounding,” Kistler said. He later said that Heinen has battled illness the last two years, so he could be primed for a big season.
“I think you’ll see more scoring out of him and even more rebounding out of him [with Heinen] staying healthy,” Kistler said.
Also looking to make an impact inside are Carter Olsen, who’s making the move up from junior varsity, and 6’ 3” senior Dalton Woodward.
“His jumping has definitely improved this year, so that’s another big help on the boards,” Kistler said of Woodward. “His shot block ability’s there.”
With Heinen, Olsen and Woodward playing inside, “rebounds are taken care of,” the coach said.
Also back is Kaelan Groves, who was second on the team in scoring last season at 8.3 points per game and looks to start at point guard to open the season.
“Kaelan [Groves] was definitely a guy that had the ball in his hands quite a bit last year, getting the ball up the court,” Kistler said. “He was one of our leading scorers.”
Starting on the wing will be Will Preator, who averaged three points per game last winter.
“Will Preator’s another guy that’s played a lot of minutes, varsity and JV,” Kistler said.
Kistler also spoke well of Jesse Brown, who is a potential starter and one of the team’s best defenders.
“He’s a hustle kind of guy that we can [have] him defend their best player if need be,” Kistler said of Brown.
One thing that is certain is that Powell will not face an easy schedule. Of its three opponents in the 3A Northwest quadrant, Lander is ranked third in WyoPreps.com’s Class 3A preseason poll, while Worland is No. 4. Those aren’t even all the tough teams that the Panthers will take on this season, as Powell faces three of the top seven teams in the state at the East-West Classic in the season’s first two days.
“That’s going to be a good test of where we stand,” Kistler said. “Also, right out of the gate, we’re playing Buffalo, who’s the No. 1-ranked team in the state; we’re going to have them on their home court.”
The Panthers will open the season Friday at Buffalo with a game against Pinedale, which is unofficially ranked seventh in the preseason poll, and will also face Rawlins, the second-ranked team in Class 3A.
“Those are just some highlights of teams [of] the games that we’ve got lined out,” Kistler said.
Despite the tough schedule, Kistler remains optimistic, as the team’s returnees will be joined by several sophomores who are coming off of strong freshman seasons, and a group of juniors who are “hard workers” and “get after it on defense” — players like Ethan Asher, Cameron Wentz and Noah Faxon.
“We had a great turnout for tryouts,” Kistler said. “We’ve got a great program that’s just building each year and getting better each year.”