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January 08, 2009 4:02 am

Team unity has Lady Panthers thinking title

Written by Tribune Staff

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McKenzie Danforth and her Lady Panther teammates currently hold a 5-1 overall record and are ranked second in Class 3A. The Lady Panthers also are among the leaders in a number of statistical categories at the 3A level, including team defense (1st) and team shooting (1st). Tribune photo by David Dickey

All for one, one for all

Friday night will mark the start of the 2009 portion of the Powell High School Lady Panthers' basketball season, and they will enter their 5:45 p.m. matchup against Kemmerer with a number of goals in mind.

For starters, the obvious goal will be to add another W in the win column. Secondly, the Lady Panthers will be aiming to do something they've done consistently throughout the season — improve.

PHS currently has a 5-1 overall mark and a 1-1 record in Class 3A's West Conference. They also entered the Christmas break carrying a lofty No. 2 ranking in the WyoPreps.com standings and are expected to maintain that position when this week's poll is unveiled.

The only team ranked ahead of PHS is two-time defending state champion Jackson, the team that handed the Lady Panthers their lone loss. That setback, a 41-28 decision on the Lady Broncs' home court, though disappointing, is one PHS's McKenzie Danforth believes the Lady Panthers learned from and can avenge when the two squads meet again Feb. 6.

The senior point guard, who also is the daughter of PHS head coach Luke Danforth, said any team with hopes of winning the 3A West and state tournaments later this year will likely have to survive matchups with the Lady Broncs. But for the Lady Panthers to reach their goals, McKenzie Danforth said they'll have to outwork and outplay not only Jackson, but a host of other formidable opponents in the 3A ranks. She added the Lady Panthers have an added edge that could prove beneficial by season's end, and that's the experience a number of this year's Lady Panthers gained during their trip to the state tournament during the 2007-08 slate.

“(The trip to the state tournament) was a great experience,” she said. “It gave us a better idea of what it takes to get there. Now we have a picture in our minds as to what we have to do. To win it, it's going to take believing that we can do it. It's also going to take a lot of teamwork for that to happen.”

The good news for Lady Panther fans is that teamwork has been the squad's top quality this season. The team chemistry that has already been witnessed on the court is one of the reasons optimism abounds among this year's team.

“It's still early in the season, and we're in a similar position to where we were at this time last year,” Coach Danforth said. “The girls have been playing good basketball, and I'm excited about how well they've come together. We're getting contributions from everybody on the team, and one of the keys for us is to continue working hard. These girls put a lot of effort into everything they do, and I've been so impressed with how hard they've worked.”

So far, PHS's work ethic and teamwork has translated into the Lady Panthers being among the leaders in a number of statistical categories for all of Class 3A. When the Lady Panthers enter this weekend's matchups with Kemmerer and Lyman (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.), they will do so ranked No. 1 in team defense and team shooting.

PHS is giving up just 26.8 points per contest, and it has a league-leading shooting percentage of 42.8 percent.

PHS also ranks seventh in team scoring (49.7 ppg) and third in team rebounding (35.7 rpg).

Juniors and returning starters Savannah Donarski and Abby Pollart have been among the leaders for PHS, and both are highly ranked in a number of 3A's statistical categories. Donarski is eighth in scoring (12.3 ppg), eighth in field-goal percentage (51 percent), fifth in free-throw percentage (78 percent) and ninth in blocked shots (1.2 bpg). Pollart, who is averaging 11 points per game, also is ranked sixth in rebounding (9.2 rpg), second in assists (4 apg), seventh in steals (3.2 spg) and ninth in field-goal percentage (51 percent).

“Hannah just keeps getting better, and Savannah has really stepped up for us,” Coach Danforth said.

McKenzie Danforth, from her point-guard position, also is among 3A's leaders in assists with 3.3 per game, and Coach Danforth said she has been solid as one of the Lady Panthers' key floor generals.

“She's the one that gets the offense started, and on defense, she's one of our key defenders on the perimeter,” Coach Danforth said. “She's doing a lot of good things for us.”

Seniors Darcee Lynn and Kelsey Allen also have been keys to PHS's early success. Lynn, who is averaging 7.3 points per game, is ranked third in 3A in field-goal percentage (57 percent) and has been a force on the defensive end. Allen is averaging close to a half dozen points per game and has been one of the team's top free-throw shooters. She's also a threat from three-point range and a solid player on defense.

“Darcee is doing so many things for us,” Coach Danforth said. “She's rebounding well, she's playing solid on defense and she's finding ways to score points. Kelsey's been strong for us on both ends of the court, too.”

Making the Lady Panthers even stronger has been the contributions of juniors Kami Cooley, Katie Kipp and Lauren Fagnant, and a group of talented sophomores that includes Shelby McIntosh, Shellie Williams, Leslie Thronburg, Tamara Brown, Olivia Rogers, Hannah Groves, Randi Asay and Marquette McArthur.

“One of the keys to us being successful relies on those girls,” Coach Danforth said. “They are able to give us a lot of quality help, and that really helps us when it comes to depth. There's still plenty of learning for them to do, but they've all shown they can contribute in a lot of ways.”

Rogers, one of the players who is still settling into a varsity role, said at times it can be intimidating to play against powerhouses like Jackson. However, she said with the support of the older, more experienced players, that transition is becoming easier with each matchup.

“That's one of the great things about this team — the older players are so willing to help out,” Rogers said. “It's great that they are there to help out when you have questions about something, and I think that's one of the reasons we've enjoyed a strong start. Everybody works hard, and we all get along so well.”

With the strong work ethic and solid team unity working in its favor, Rogers believes the sky is the limit for this year's squad. So does Coach Danforth.

“We've got a hard schedule in front of us, and nothing is going to be easy,” Coach Danforth said. “We've got to show up to play every game, and we have to keep building on what we did last year and what we've been able to do so far this season. If we can keep doing that, I believe any goal is attainable for this group of girls.”