Undefeated: Panthers run table, win first title since 1998

Posted 3/12/24

History made.

The Powell Panther boys’ basketball team ran the table, proving itself the top team in 3A this season and capping it off with a first state title in 26 years.

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Undefeated: Panthers run table, win first title since 1998


History made.

The Powell Panther boys’ basketball team ran the table, proving itself the top team in 3A this season and capping it off with a first state title in 26 years.

Powell (26-0) earned its fourth title in program history, setting the school record for wins in a season which had stood at 23 since 1957, defeating Rawlins 76-45, Buffalo 50-43 and Wheatland 49-34 in Casper this past weekend to claim the state championship and send off six seniors with a perfect season.

“Every day at practice looking up at where that 2024 was going to go, that’s what our goal was all along. We had to realize we had to take it one game at a time. It means the world to us but it means a lot to this community to finally bring some glory,” senior Marshall Lewis said. “Ever since seventh grade that was the goal. We always said ‘we are going to win state.’ To say we finally did it is just a testament to us, we never gave up, we never faltered and it means the world to us.”



Starting out as the top seed out of the west the Panthers took on the east No. 4 seed Rawlins Outlaws (11-17) in the opening round.

Rawlins came out strong, holding an 8-2 advantage early before the Panthers regained their footing.

Powell gained the lead behind a strong effort from Brock Johnson, who had seven of the first 14 points for the Panthers as they led 14-10 after the first quarter.

Rawlins made a run early in the second, before a flurry of points by Lewis helped Powell establish a double-digit advantage.

The Outlaws made tough baskets to stay in the game, but Powell pulled ahead at the half up 36-22 behind 11 from Lewis and nine from Johnson.

Powell pushed the lead to 20 behind a Johnson basket with two minutes left in the third, up 51-31.

In the second half the Panthers found their groove offensively, pushing the lead out to as many as 36 at 74-38.

Powell finished with a 76-45 victory, forcing 22 Outlaw turnovers in the contest.

“Those first round games are sometimes tough especially at 1:30 in the afternoon,” coach Mike Heny said. “Once we got our bearings we played 3 1/2 really good quarters, especially that second half. I think that jump started us and got our confidence up.”

Lewis led four Panthers in double figures with 15, Johnson and Gunnar Erickson tied with 13 apiece as Cade Queen was the final Panther in double figures with 11 points.

Erickson and Johnson tied with five steals each while Erickson led with five assists.



Heading into the semifinals the Panthers matched up with the east No. 2 seed Bison (14-12) in a rematch of a contest that went to overtime in Powell in early February.

“We felt pretty good about the Buffalo matchup. Even though it was close in Powell we felt like we were better than them,” Heny said. 

The past two years Buffalo has been a thorn in the side of Powell at the state tournament, having defeated the Panthers in the third place game two years ago and in the quarterfinal round last year.

Both teams came out aggressively, with the Panthers led by Erickson to a 12-all tie midway through.

Powell’s other top scorer picked up his second foul late in the quarter, sending Johnson to the bench.

Buffalo came out ahead, leading 19-15 after the first.

“These kids even when we were down a few points never get rattled and we just kept competing,” Heny said.

Slow scoring led to a 21-19 Buffalo lead midway through the quarter, but a strong effort at the free throw line helped the Panthers stay close.

Powell finally regained the lead late in the half and took that advantage into the locker room up 25-24 thanks to an Alex Jordan basket.

Defensive miscommunications had allowed for easier points for the Bison in the first half, so it was an emphasis the Panthers focused on in the second half.

“A lot of it was communication issues on our switches,” Heny said. 

Both teams continued making shots in the third quarter, as the teams were deadlocked at 33 with 2:30 left.

From that point on, the Panthers pulled away.

A late 7-0 run was capped off by a banked in Erickson 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving Powell a 40-33 lead after three quarters.

Buffalo closed within three early in the fourth at 41-38, before two straight Johnson layups reestablished the seven point lead.

Powell continued to maintain the lead, holding Buffalo at bay.

“We cleaned it up defensively, forcing them to take jump shots. We ran them off the 3-point line and took away their shooters,” Heny said. 

Late turnovers led to chances for the Bison, but Powell finished out a strong night at the line for the 50-43 win.

“[We’re] not panicking in close games. We’re battle tested. We’ve played so many close games this year and I think that gave us an edge. We love locking down on defense and getting stops when it matters,” Lewis said.

The difference came at the free throw line, as the Panthers went 19-25 (76%) compared to 6-9 (66.7%) for the Bison.

Despite a poor shooting night and the Bison getting nine blocks on the night, the Panthers earned their first trip to the state championship since 2019.

Erickson led with 17 points, pushing past the 1,000 mark for his career after starting the night 10 short of the mark. He joined Johnson as one of only five Panthers to achieve that milestone.

“Everyone was hoping I would. I was happy I did. I wanted to end that way,” Erickson said.

Johnson finished with 16 as the other Panther in double-figures.

Trey Stenerson led with 12 rebounds and added eight points along with tying for the team lead in steals with three alongside Jhett Schwahn.



Heading into the title game the Panthers matched up with a team they were not expecting, the east No. 3 seed Wheatland Bulldogs (18-10).

Wheatland advanced to the championship after pulling off consecutive upsets, defeating west No. 2 seed Lovell 43-41 in overtime before defeating east No. 1 seed Douglas in the semifinals 36-32 in overtime. The Bearcats defeated them three times prior and were undefeated against 3A competition this season.

Heading into the matchup both teams were looking for history. Powell was looking for its first title in 26 years and Wheatland was seeking its first ever in its fourth title game appearance.

The Bulldogs attempted to dictate the pace early against the Panthers, using a patented slow style to try and limit Powell at the offensive end.

That held Powell off for three minutes, then Erickson got the first basket of the game.

The slow pace led to a low scoreline after the first, with Powell ahead 9-7.

In the second the Bulldogs continued controlling the pace, holding a 17-16 lead with 3:30 left.

Powell regained the lead at 18-17, and held a 20-19 lead before a late run helped break open the contest.

“We tried to make them play at a faster pace rather than us play at a slower pace,” Erickson said. “We tried to pressure right off the bat and get some steals and get them out of control so we could get some open layups.”

In the final 1:30, Johnson hit a layup, then Erickson hit a basket and quickly stole the ball that led to a Stenerson layup to build a 26-19 advantage at the break.

“We wanted to get out and get after them and be tough on the ball,” Heny said. “That spurt at the end of the second quarter was a big momentum shift going into halftime.”

Deep shots were exchanged early in the third. Erickson made a 3-pointer, Wheatland answered and Schwahn hit another to help Powell build a double-digit lead up 32-22.

That lead continued to hover between 10-12 for the remainder of the quarter before a flurry of turnovers late in the quarter gave Wheatland a lifeline.

The Bulldogs cut the lead down, with Powell ahead 36-29 after three.

Jordan and Johnson hit layups early in the fourth, rebuilding the double-digit lead at 40-29.

Holding a double-digit lead, Powell worked some time off the clock, while holding off the Bulldogs defensively.

Erickson put the finishing touches on the contest, ending with an and-one with a minute left to give Powell the 49-34 final.

“It’s awesome. All that experience and all that practice helped us out so much and got us to this point. I think we’re all proud that we kept working to get here,” Erickson said.

A defensive stop was followed by a timeout by Heny, allowing his seniors to get one last ovation from the Powell faithful with 30 seconds left.

Erickson led with 14 and Johnson had 11 as the two Panthers in double figures.

Johnson and Stenerson tied with eight rebounds each.

The victory capped off the undefeated season for the Panthers, which according to wyoming-basketball.com is the first time a 3A boys team has gone undefeated since Thermopolis in 2004. Powell became the 21st boys’ team in history to finish undefeated in Wyoming and the first since Little Snake River in 2012.

“We just tried to win one game at a time. That was our motto all year was one possession at a time, one game at a time,” Heny said. “We didn’t overlook anybody, we tried to stay true to who we were. Tough on defense and pretty talented on offense once we got going.”

The Panthers had 14 wins by 20 or more points this season, while only six games were decided by single digits.

“Every game is special now. This is one of those cherries on top,” Heny said. “I coach for the kids and the relationships with these kids is what I’m going to miss the most. Basketball is secondary to our culture and what we do. It’ll be hard to see this group go because of how close we are, but that’s why I’m in it. We’ll enjoy this one and I’ll cherish these memories forever.”



The Panthers will say goodbye to six seniors including five starters in Erickson, Johnson, Stenerson, Schwahn and Lewis along with Queen off the bench.

“We had our offs and ons throughout the season. It’s been rough but us as a group we just push and push each other so much that it gets us better every day. That’s what helped us get here and get to this win,” Erickson said.

The seniors have played together for a long time, with a state title being a goal since before they even reached high school, Lewis said.

After missing out on a title the two previous trips, Heny attributed the hard work of the program as a whole to leading to this title.

“They missed out on a trophy their sophomore year — thought we were good enough to get one then,” Heny said. “Last year we played a tough first round game and didn’t play well offensively. This group works their tail off. It’s not just the seniors, it’s everybody in our program.”

Despite losing six seniors, the Panthers will return six players off the bench who received significant experience this year, along with strong lower level programs that are expected to take that next step in the future.



Total rebounds then offensive rebounds in ()

Points — Marshall Lewis 15, Brock Johnson 13, Gunnar Erickson 13, Cade Queen 11, Trey Stenerson 9, Jhett Schwahn 7, Alex Jordan 6, Dawson Griffin 2

Rebounds — Brock Johnson 5 (1), Trey Stenerson 5 (3), Jhett Schwahn 5 (3), Alex Jordan 4 (2), Gunnar Erickson 4 (2), Cade Queen 2 (1), Marshall Lewis 1 (1), Nathan Preator 1 (1)

Assists — Gunnar Erickson 5, Brock Johnson 3, Marshall Lewis 2, Evan Whitlock 1, Nathan Preator 1, Jhett Schwahn 1

Steals — Brock Johnson 5, Gunnar Erickson 5, Cade Queen 3, Marshall Lewis 1, Trey Stenerson 1, Alex Jordan 1

Blocks — Cade Queen 1



Points — Gunnar Erickson 17, Brock Johnson 16, Trey Stenerson 8, Jhett Schwahn 5, Marshall Lewis 2, Alex Jordan 2

Rebounds — Trey Stenerson 12 (5), Gunnar Erickson 6 (1), Brock Johnson 4, Jhett Schwahn 3, Alex Jordan 3 (2), Cade Queen 2, Marshall Lewis 1, Nathan Preator 1

Assists — Jhett Schwahn 2, Brock Johnson 1, Nathan Preator 1, Trey Stenerson 1, Alex Jordan 1

Steals — Trey Stenerson 3, Jhett Schwahn 3, Marshall Lewis 1, Alex Jordan 1, Gunnar Erickson 1

Blocks — Trey Stenerson 2, Alex Jordan 1



Points — Gunnar Erickson 14, Brock Johnson 11, Alex Jordan 6, Trey Stenerson 5, Jhett Schwahn 5, Marshall Lewis 4, Nathan Preator 2, Cade Queen 2

Rebounds — Brock Johnson 8 (2), Trey Stenerson 8 (4), Alex Jordan 4 (2), Gunnar Erickson 4 (1), Marshall Lewis 2, Jhett Schwahn 2 (1), Cade Queen 1 (1)

Assists — Brock Johnson 2, Jhett Schwahn 2, Gunnar Erickson 2

Steals — Gunnar Erickson 2, Brock Johnson 1, Trey Stenerson 1, Jhett Schwahn 1

Blocks — Trey Stenerson 2