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January 13, 2011 8:20 am

SPORTS GUY: 3A West title not out of question

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It isn’t Mount Everest, but right now Powell High School boys’ basketball coach Mike Heny has to feel like he’s standing on top of the world. How could he not be?

Admittedly, we’re only a little more than a quarter of the way into conference play this basketball season, but there’s already reason to smile. The Panthers currently sit alone atop the 3A West conference standings. With a 4-0 conference mark, they already have more wins in league play this season, than they had in all of their games — conference and non-conference — last season.

And the most promising thing? I don’t think we’ve seen the best yet. If anything, the team is very much still a work in progress.

Juniors Josh Cragoe and Chase Partridge have both played in fewer than half of the team’s nine contests. The team is still developing chemistry as both players work to get integrated into the offensive and defensive flow. You can almost see the Panthers growing more comfortable on a game-by-game basis.

In some ways, you could see this coming. Having Class 2A No. 1 Lovell on the ropes earlier this season before allowing the Bulldogs to slip away hinted at the potential. In other ways — thinking back to a 2009-2010 rebuilding season that at times seemed like a non-stop parade of lumps — the sudden success is a bit startling.

For those who recall the thrill ride the Panthers took through the state tournament just two years ago, however, it is a fun journey to be on. Seeing a defense that ranks second in the conference in steals generated per game menace opposing offensive sets is reason enough to head out to the gymnasium for home games.

Let’s be clear — nothing will come easy for this group. A come from behind victory at Jackson and an early 10-0 home deficit to Lyman testify to that. At the same time, everything is possible. One glance down the 3A West standings shows not a single team possessing a winning record at this moment. If ever there was a situation befitting of the sports cliché that it is a wide open race, this year’s conference competition would seem to fit the bill.

With 10 games remaining, the 3A West title is waiting for someone to step up and stake their claim. A high seeding in what could be a tightly contested conference tournament in March sits there begging to be snatched.

Already leading by one game in the standings, Powell’s schedule sets up nicely to help the team remain positioned as the league frontrunner. Four of the Panthers’ next five conference games, beginning with Saturday’s game against Lander, take place in Powell. Simply holding serve on the home floor should ensure the team takes a one or two-game cushion into a mid-February four-game road swing.

Like I said, nothing will come easy. The work and dedication the Panthers have shown in the early season will have to continue if the team hopes to finish the season atop the 3A West standings.

That said, it is a dream that is well worth entertaining, for both players and fans. Heading into the year, head coach Mike Heny was hopeful his team could fit into the top three. With the season arriving at the midway point this Saturday, it might be time to re-examine that goal and up the ante a little.

The Panthers are off to a hot start. There’s a world of possibility open to this group and there are plenty of chances for fans throughout the community to turn out and cheer the squad on in the days ahead.

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