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December 02, 2008 3:28 am

Panthers look to build on last year's success

Written by Tribune Staff

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Senior Jordan Brown is one of eight returning players from last year's Powell High School boys basketball team, which finished the 2007-08 season with a 15-9 record. Tribune photo by David Dickey

Still climbing the ladder

Even with all of the success the Powell High School boys basketball team enjoyed during the 2007-08 season, there was a feeling among the Panthers that there was business left unfinished.

The Panthers posted a 15-9 overall mark and a 9-5 record in Class 3A's West Conference. However, when the Panthers took part in the West Conference's tournament following the regular season, the team finished one victory short of a berth in the state tournament. With eight players returning, including three starters, it's no surprise that PHS head coach Troy Hildebrand and his team are looking to carry their success a bit farther this season.

“It was a disappointing end to a very good season for us,” Coach Hildebrand said. “As disappointing as it was, we can't let that outweigh the gains we made as a program last season. We wanted to be there at the state tournament, but we came up a little short. This year, one of our goals is to make it to state. That's something these guys want to accomplish, especially the ones that played for us last year.”

Realizing that goal won't be easy considering the expected level of competition in Class 3A this season, but Coach Hildebrand said the talent and the drive to reach that goal is present among this year's Panthers.

“I'm excited about the experience and the athleticism we have,” said Coach Hildebrand, who also noted a number of this year's players were part of PHS's successful football team. “The first two weeks of practice have been really positive for us. We're building on what we learned last year. And for those guys that played football, we're looking for the confidence they gained to carry over onto the basketball court.”

Coach Hildebrand is hoping the wealth of players with varsity experience will help the Panthers cope with two key losses to graduation. Michael Hildebrand and Mitchell McArthur both graduated at the end of 2007-08 school year, leaving a pair of voids to be filled.

Michael Hildebrand enjoyed a stellar senior campaign and led the Panthers in scoring (16.6 points per game). With him now out of the lineup, the Panthers will be without the top 3-point shooter in PHS's history.

Mitchell McArthur also shouldered his fair share of the scoring load last year. He was fourth on the team in scoring with 6.3 points per game and was among the top rebounders with 3.4 rebounds per contest. With those two gone from the lineup, Coach Hildebrand said several Panthers will have to take on more of the scoring load. Among those expected to power the offense are seniors Ryan Brandt and Jordan Brown. Brandt finished last season at the team's second-leading scorer with 11.7 points per game and as the squad's top rebounder with 6.8 rebounds per game.

Brown, who improved steadily throughout last year's schedule, was the team's third-leading scorer in 2007-08 with 6.4 points per game. And though he played at point guard, he still was the team's second-leading rebounder with 4.7 boards per contest. Brown also led the team in assists (5 per game) and steals (2.8 per game).

“Ryan and Jordan will be key players for us,” Coach Hildebrand said. “Both are returning all-conference players, and we're counting on their leadership.”

Also back and expected to be among the leaders for PHS are twin brothers and seniors Galen and Gavin Mills.

Galen Mills accounted for 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last year, and his brother Gavin tallied 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest. Senior Matt McArthur also returns after having played in all 24 of PHS's games last season.

Others who are back after seeing playing time in 2007-08 are seniors Matt Kifer, Brandon Sullivan and Dallas Robirds. As for new additions to the varsity squad, the Panthers have three — juniors Colter Bostick, AJ Anderson and David Starcevich.

“Our staple will be our defense,” Coach Hildebrand said. “With our size and quickness, we have a lot of options on that end of the floor. I think our defense will allow us to continue to build on what we did last year. Because of our personnel, we believe our defense will be ready to go every time we play, and we're looking for defensive play to help carry us. Our experience should help a lot as well. Last year, we had some success and we learned how to win. We had a lot of games that were close, and winning a lot of those gave these guys an idea of what it takes to get it done when it's on the line. The way we won a lot of those close games should help us this year.”

During 2007-08, the Panthers ranked fourth overall in Class 3A's team defense category after allowing just 49.2 points per game.

At the junior varsity level, the Panthers have a full roster consisting of Jose Garcia, Kirk Ohman, Regan Solail, Jacob Buester, Zane Bushnell, Tyler England, Colby Gilmore, Dylan Hutzenbieler, Drew Magill, Tyler McCauley and John Kissner. According to Coach Hildebrand, a number of the junior varsity players will be competing for potential spots on the varsity lineup.

The season will officially begin for both the varsity and junior varsity squads Friday at the East-West Basketball Challenge at Buffalo High School. The varsity's first contest will be Friday at 5 p.m. against Newcastle. On Saturday, PHS will face Wheatland at 11 a.m. and Rawlins at 5:30 p.m.

PHS's junior varsity will face Rawlins and Newcastle Friday 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively. On Saturday, they'll square off with Wheatland at 8 a.m.