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March 18, 2010 3:48 am

Soccer season opens Saturday

Written by Tribune Staff

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Drayson Bratt, the 2009 runner-up in balloting for underclassman of the year, works on passing during a drill Tuesday afternoon for the Panthers. Bratt led the team last season in scoring. Tribune photo by Randal Horobik

With basketball season less than a week in the rearview mirror, the Powell High School boys' and girls' soccer teams will usher in the start of the spring sports calendar this weekend. Both teams will open the year on the road at soccer jamborees.

The Panther boys enter 2010 on a high following a 9-8-1 season that saw the club advance to the consolation championship at last year's state tournament. Powell was ranked as high as No. 3 in Class 3A last season before injuries over the last half of the year saw the team slip in both the standings and the rankings.

The Panthers are looking to replace eight seniors who graduated off of last year's team, but have a pair of returning 2009 honorees that they can build around for the season ahead. Senior Monte Nickles is a two-time all-state defender for the Panthers and will provide a strong back-line player to guide Powell's defense.

Also garnering high praise in 2009 was the play of senior Drayson Bratt. Inexplicably left off the all-state roster a year ago, Bratt finished as the 3A runner-up in balloting for underclass player of the year honors in Wyoming. Bratt was also the team leader with 18 goals scored last season, giving Powell instant punch on offense.

Head coach Pat D'Alessandro and the Panther boys open play in Worland on Saturday.

While the Panther girls lack the flashy returning credentials featured by the Panther boys, head coach Brad Hammond has plenty of reasons to smile as his team prepares to take the pitch in the 2010 season.

Nine players with starting experience return to a Panther team that finished with a 2-13 record last season, including an 0-2 mark at the state tournament. The strength of the team could come on the back line, where the entire defensive unit returns intact from a season ago.

“Our entire defense is back, including Maddy Jones, who went down late last year with a knee injury,” said Hammond. “I anticipate that will be one of our strengths, especially early in the year.”

That defensive unit could be especially helpful in the early going. One of the Panthers' most pressing needs in the early going would appear to be identifying a goalkeeper to replace the services of McKenzie Danforth, who graduated last spring.

“Obviously that's an area of need right now,” said Hammond. “We've got a big gap at that position and we need to identify someone we can plug in at that position.”

While the defense may be strong, it is the opposite end of the field that holds the key to improving upon last season's record. A young Panther team simply struggled to score goals in 2009, and increasing that productivity will go a long way toward increasing the team's victory count in 2010.

The good news in that arena is that the Panthers again return all but one starter at both the midfield and forward positions.

“We're still going to be a pretty young team this season, with only three or four seniors on the varsity,” Hammond said. “But the kids we have will form a solid nucleus, thanks in part to the experience they gained last season.

These kids have worked hard. A lot of them went to camps over the summer. They're excited to be working on their skills.”

The Panther girls open their season Saturday in Cody. The team opens with a 9 a.m. game against Star Valley at Mentock Park. The team faces Green River in an 11:30 a.m. game at Glendale Park before returning to Mentock for a 2:40 p.m. contest against Rock Springs.

All three games will be an abbreviated 50 minutes in length under jamboree rules.

“All three are against 4A competition, so we should know really quick where we're at to begin the year,” said Hammond.

Powell High School will play its home soccer games at a new location this season. Both varsity and junior varsity contests will take place on fields located immediately north of the high school. The Panther girls will have the opportunity to christen those new fields March 26-27 when Newcastle and Torrington come to town. The Panther boys won't have a chance to test the new fields until April 30 when they play their first home game of the year against Lander.