A total of 65 athletes (38 boys, 27 girls) have joined the team, and head coach Scott Smith said it’s one of the most gifted (and dynamic) groups of athletes he’s seen in his 22 years of coaching the Panthers.
Powell’s talent-rich roster creates a puzzle that’s up to the coaches to solve.
“It’s nice to have this much talent,” Smith said. “We have such good talent level. We’ve got a lot of kids that can do a lot of different things; we just need to see how it’s going to fit in best.”
If the Panthers find the right combination of athletes and events at the right time, it could mean more major hardware for PHS.
“I think if we can get everything together we can be in the hunt for first place on both sides,” Smith said.
The coach said he won’t — nor does he need to — know his varsity lineup for state this early in the season. What matters now is that Powell has superior athletes, and lots of them.
“We know we’ve got good talent right now. We just don’t know what to do with it,” Smith said. “We’ll probably have a pretty good idea (by) late April, early May.”
The Panther boys return two state champions (Garrett Lynch and Kalei Smith) while the girls bring back one (Tori Sleep).
Lynch was Wyoming’s top thrower among all classes in both the discus and shot put and is set to become a Wyoming Cowboy next fall.
Smith won the 110-meter hurdles and was second in high jump, while Sleep won the girls’ discus and was the runner-up in shot put.
Those three surely will be counted on to repeat last year’s all-state performances and earn Powell a bevy of team points, but Smith said at least another dozen Panthers are poised to make moves toward the top.
The boys, starting with Lynch, are strongest in throwing events but could bolster their team score with a boost in short-distant races.
Who will run those races is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
“We didn’t score any points in the boys’ 100 and 200 (last season),” Smith said. “We’ve got some kids that I think got that kind of speed. We’re going to try to work toward that.”
Gone is Vince Sleep, who was last year’s runner-up (to Lynch) in the shot put and took fourth in discus.
Working to fill the void left by Sleep is junior Riley Stringer (fifth in shot put last season) and senior Garrett Michael (sixth).
Both Stringer and Michael qualified, but did not place, in discus.
Senior Hayden Cragoe is an individual example of the versatility found throughout the entire team.
Cragoe was second in pole vault last year and sixth in the triple jump, but he also is a viable hurdler and long jumper. Now he’s adding throwing to the mix.
“He’s working on the discus a little bit right now,” Smith said. “He’s just a good athlete.”
Senior Brendon Phister entered the 2013 state meet with the fourth-best time in 110-meter hurdles but failed to make the finals after hitting a hurdle in the preliminary heat. A strong indoor track season has Smith optimistic for a strong final year out of Phister.
“He’s looking good already,” Smith said.
Matt Abraham and Zander Andreasen, both senior cross country runners, will provide stability and speed in the middle- and long-distances.
Abraham took fifth in the 400 meters last season, and Andreasen, though he didn’t place last year in the 1600- or 3200-meter races, has performed well during indoors this year.
“His indoor times would have placed at outdoor last year,” Smith said of Andreasen. “I expect some really good things out of him.”
Smith said the girls aren’t as deep (they have 11 fewer athletes than the boys) but have plenty of talent up top to compete.
Sophomore Anissa Warner returns as the state runner-up in high jump. She also took fifth in long jump and seventh in the triple jump.
Senior Shawnea Harrington was second in discus last season and has placed in shot put all three years for PHS (sixth in 2013, sixth in 2012, third in 2011).
Senior KaDee Harrison took third in the 400-meter dash and fourth in the 200-meter dash at state last year and could improve her position with the graduation of seniors from Worland and Star Valley.
Sophomore Danna Hanks took fifth in the 100-meter hurdles as a freshman and has made herself an athlete to watch this season.
“I expect big things from her,” Smith said.
Another underclassmen that could make a name for herself is Lexee Craig. The sophomore appeared to find her calling early when she finished ninth, the highest place by a freshman, in pole vaulting.
“I think she’s going to do well with that,” Smith said.
Junior Gretchen Moretti took seventh in the 3200 meter race, and senior Brooke Lensegrav was eighth in the 400-meter dash in 2013.
A few freshmen and at least one intriguing junior on the boys’ side are wild cards who can only help Powell’s quest to the podium.
“We’ve got young kids coming in that we have high hopes for, but we don’t really know where they fit,” Smith said.
The girls will try to dethrone the Cody Fillies, who have claimed every girls’ title since 2008. Cody finished fourth in 4A in 2007.
The boys will be chasing Douglas and Cody, which finished first and third, respectively, at state in 2013.
Jackson (second in boys, seventh in girls) and Star Valley (fifth in boys, second in girls) each suffered major losses to graduation, Smith said, but can’t be counted out before they’re seen in live competition.
“We don’t really know much about them until we get to regionals,” Smith said of Jackson and Star Valley, two teams that often compete in Idaho.
Powell’s coaches and the 65 athletes on the current roster have their work cut out for them, but while Smith tries to solve the puzzle, he’s also making sure to keep his athletes’ best interests in mind.
“Part of our philosophy is, you gotta love track. It’s not as effective if you’re doing it just to do it,” Smith said. “If there’s an event they love, that’s where we work first.”