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New Panther hoops coach eager for season

PHS juniors Kalei Smith (left) and Carter Baxter fight for position during a rebounding drill Tuesday afternoon. PHS juniors Kalei Smith (left) and Carter Baxter fight for position during a rebounding drill Tuesday afternoon. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

Pressure? What pressure?

Chase Kistler will coach the Powell High School boys basketball team this season, and the squad will open the season this weekend ranked No. 1 in the state. The Panthers are coming off a season where they caught fire late and nearly captured the state 3A crown, losing to Star Valley on a buzzer-beating shot in the title game.

Within a few weeks of that game, Mike Heny was relieved of his coaching duties by the school board.

As they prepare to start the 2013-14 season, Kistler said he and his players realize a lot is being expected from them.

“We all feel the pressure,” Kistler said after practice Friday morning.

“I didn’t expect it,” he said of the No. 1 ranking. “I knew we had great returnees coming back. But to be honest, preseason rankings are not that big a deal with me.”

Seniors Hayden Cragoe, Cory Heny, Garrett Michaels, Blake Schwan and Forrest Christensen will be counted on to provide points, boards and leadership. However, Heny is out for four to six weeks as he shakes off an injury.

Juniors Kalei Smith, Carter Baxter, Matt Sweet, Zach Heny and Grady Sanders also will contribute, while sophomores Kristian Stenlund, Kaden Moore, Jackson Griffen, Toby Stowe, Adam Griffin, Sean Wagner and Ezra Andreasen may play key minutes during the season. Some will play on the junior varsity team while also getting court time on the varsity squad.

While Kistler was reluctant to name his starting five, he said Cragoe, Michaels, Schwan, Baxter, Smith, Sweet, Zach Heny and Christensen will rotate in and out to start the season.

Kistler said his goal right now is to get the team healthy and improve every day. He said the players have been upbeat and enthusiastic, and he has enjoyed the start of the season.

“They’ve had a great attitude every day so far,” he said. “This group of young men are competitors, always competing. They never give up. I’ve never seen this group of young people give up, in football or in basketball.”

Kistler said that desire to compete and win has resulted in a great deal of success. In addition to the near-miss for the state basketball title last year, several members of the team played football for the Panthers, and were key contributors to the three straight state titles.

Of course, since the gridiron season lasted longer than it did for most Wyoming schools, some Powell athletes are a little banged up. Kistler said he is waiting for all of them to reach top condition, and is working with the athletic trainer to ensure the players are ready to take to the court.

“We are beat up,” he said bluntly. “We’re still getting healthy.”

Another factor with so much success at PHS in recent years is that the team has a target on it. Everyone wants to knock off the mighty Panthers.

“It’s going to be a championship game every night when we step on the court,” Kistler said.

The schedule also offers a challenge from the start. Powell will open play this weekend in the East-West Classic in Cody. The Panthers take on Newcastle at 3:30 p.m. Friday, and then play Wheatland at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Then, after a long break — the team will return to Powell to allow the boys to eat and get off their feet — PHS will take on No. 3-ranked Rawlins at 6 p.m. Saturday night.

The home opener will also be a high-profile game. Powell will host No. 2-ranked Star Valley at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13. That means they will play the third- and second-ranked teams in the state back-to-back, Kistler noted. But he said it’s important to target the end of the season, not to peak at the start.

“It’s such a long season,” he said. “Let’s see how we’re playing after December. I just want to get better every day.”

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