“We had a good chance to win,” said Panther girls’ coach Brett Hanlin. “We’ve played Cody close in the past, but we had a real opportunity to win today.”
That success was perhaps a bit unexpected for the Panther girls, who played the game without three regular starters on the field.
“We had a few injuries that forced us to play a little different lineup and caused us to not substitute as much as we may normally have,” said Hanlin. “The girls that did play did a good job of adjusting to new roles and doing what we asked of them to do.”
The Panthers had plenty of chances in the first half as they played with a strong wind at their backs, but the goal didn’t come until almost the 30th minute. Junior Shelby Nicholson capitalized on a poor pass among Cody defenders to get a shot opportunity, which she tucked onto the top shelf, just beneath the cross bar and out of reach of the Fillies’ keeper for a 1-0 Panther lead.
In the second half, the Panthers were forced to play into the teeth of the wind, forcing the squad to take on a more defensive posture. The Panthers still generated a few chances in the half, but it was Cody that notched the first score of the second half, trickling a ball past a sprawled Panther goalkeeper to knot the scoreboard 1-1. Minutes later, the Panthers were whistled for a foul in the goal box, setting Cody up with a penalty kick.
Panther goalkeeper Alyssa Hildebrand guessed correctly, diving to her left, but was unable to get her hand on the ball. The Fillies held the 2-1 lead for the remainder of the half to escape with the win.
“You never like to lose a game, but I’m pleased with the way we played,” Hanlin said of the game. “Especially with the way we had to move people around. We played some good defense and I still feel like we can play with anyone in the state on any given day. We’ll be in good shape.”
The Panther boys followed a similar script, albeit without injuries forcing the team into a sizable juggling of the lineup.
Jake Christensen put the Panthers on top early, splitting a pair of Cody defenders to lace the ball inside the left post for a 1-0 Powell lead. The left side of the goal was not so kind later in the first half as Emilio Raya caught a carom off a Dewey Schwahn free kick and struck the ball at a wide-open net, only to have the shot deflect off the inside of the left post and somehow spin back into the field of play without fully crossing the goal line.
“I don’t know how it does that,” said Panther boys’ coach Travis Rapp. “I was already celebrating the goal. Some of the guys on the field said they thought it was a goal when it left his foot. I don’t know how the ball does that.”
Still, the Panther head coach was satisfied with the one-goal lead.
“That was Jake’s first varsity goal and I’ve been waiting three years to see him celebrate one,” said Rapp. “That was the second time this season that we’ve been able to get a lead early, but I thought we relaxed for a bit after we got that goal rather than pressing ahead and trying to add to it. We did a better job those last 10 minutes of the first half of applying pressure.”
In the second half, with the Panthers again fighting into the northerly wind, pressure was harder to come by for Powell.
“It was a lot like the Star Valley game,” Rapp said. “It almost seemed like we were on our heels trying to protect the lead rather than attacking and trying to get more, and give Cody credit because they came out with a vengeance in the second half.”
That aggression from the Broncs left Powell on its heels and resulted on Panther goalkeeper Heston Swenson getting peppered throughout the second half. The Broncs’ first goal came off a close-in shot that bounced off Heston’s hands and body, but was too hot for the Powell sophomore to corral as it deflected into net. Cody’s winning goal also came from close range.
“We didn’t possess the ball as well in the second half,” said Rapp. “That really put us under some pressure on defense. We have to play 11 on 11. We can’t get in situations where it’s 1 vs. 3 or 1 vs. 4 as we go down the field to attack.”
The Powell girls slid to 4-5-1 overall and 1-2 in Northwest quadrant play with the loss. The Panther boys fall to 2-8 overall and 0-3 in the quadrant. Both teams are now assured of a place in the play-in rounds for the state tournament.
“We might not have the record we wanted, but it doesn’t change anything,” said Rapp. “We’re looking to qualify for a spot at state and then we’ll take our chances and see what happens once we’re there. Those goals are still within reach.”
The Panthers return to soccer action on Friday when Lander comes to town. The date had originally been planned as Senior Night for Panther soccer, but with the rescheduling of the home game against Worland, Senior Night festivities will now take place April 29.