The Panther girls’ soccer team faces off against No. 1 ranked Jackson at 2 p.m.
“We’re ready to go,” said Panther soccer coach Travis Rapp.
The Panther boys held a full practice on Tuesday night and then got together for a quick workout on Wednesday morning before spending the afternoon and evening driving through Yellowstone and Teton national parks to get to Jackson, host site for this year’s 3A state soccer tournaments.
The Panther girls made a similar trip on Wednesday in advance of an opening-round game against the top-ranked team from Jackson. After a two-win season a year ago, head coach Brett Hanlin was already happy with the season.
“The growth these girls have shown this season has been tremendous,” said Hanlin. “To go from two wins last season to where we are now shows how hard the girls have worked. We’re hoping to go to state, play hard and win some games.”
The Panthers’ track team spent Wednesday night traveling to Casper, where the state meet opens today and runs through Saturday. Both Panther teams appear to be in contention for team trophies.
“I’ve looked at things a couple of different ways, and we should be in contention,” said Panther track coach Scott Smith. “The thing is, you never know what’s going to happen when you mix everyone from the East or the West together. You can’t look at results.”
As an example, Smith noted that he was aware some of the distance races run at last weekend’s 3A East regional took on a more tactical feel where runners were content to run off pace with the frontrunners only choosing to open things up on the final lap or two.
“Those times might not look good on paper, but they’re also not the best times those kids can run,” Smith said of the dangers of trying to forecast team standings at state based on the regional times and distances.
That said, the task remains unchanged on the girls’ side. All of 3A will be looking to halt the title run of the Cody Fillies. Star Valley appears best-positioned to make a challenging run at the top of the standings, but schools like Torrington, Worland and Powell have turned in solid enough results to expect them to challenge for one of the top three team spots.
On the boys’ side, the state meet could be a multi-way battle royale. Star Valley, Douglas, Powell, Jackson and Cody all qualified enough athletes to contend for the 3A title.
“Star Valley and Douglas will take a lot of points away from each other in the sprints,” said Panther junior Hayden Cragoe, who will have a busy weekend as he competes in the 110-meter hurdles, the pole vault, the long jump and the triple jump for the Panthers. “I look for us to compete hard and do well out there. I think we can win it.”
If the Panthers win, it will be due in part to the team’s throwing unit. The Panthers produced four of the six best distances in the state in the boys’ shot put last weekend. Panther girls produced some of the best discus marks in 3A. Throws coach Nevin Jacobs thinks that might have been a sneak preview for this week.
“If you look at the East, the kid that won [the boys’ shot put] out there would have been sixth in our region,” Jacobs said. “We had some good throws, some personal records in Lander last weekend, but part of that is because these guys are peaking at the right time. I’m excited to see what happens this week with both the boys and the girls, in both the shot and the discus.”
The Panthers will also be relying largely on youth, especially on the girls’ side of the competition. Ten of the Panthers’ 20 girls’ non-relay entries at state are held by either freshmen or sophomores. Seven of the 12 runners who will carry the baton for the Panther girls in relays will be in their first two years of high school.
“I’m excited and nervous,” freshman hurdler Danna Hanks said at practice on Tuesday night of her outlook for her first-ever trip to state in Casper. Hanks will run both the 100 and 300 hurdles and, based on her performance throughout the season, could easily find herself in Saturday’s finals.
“Whatever happens, I just hope the kids go out and do the best they can,” said Smith. “If we come home with a bunch of personal records in our events, you really can’t ask for anything more than that, regardless of where you finish in the final standings.”