PHS head coach Scott Smith said this year’s state meet shared many similarities with 2011, when the boys last won and the girls last placed second. Many of this year’s graduating seniors competed as freshmen in 2011.
“They kind of got the bookend deal,” Smith said.
The Cody girls won a seventh straight title with 117.5 points. Their 6.5-point margin over Powell was their second-lowest margin of victory since moving from Class 4A to 3A.
Two Panthers — Garrett Lynch and Hayden Cragoe — won three Best of the Best awards, given to the top athletes in an event across all classes.
Lynch won for the discus and shot put, the latter of which he won with a new Class 3A record. Cragoe won for his mark of 14 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault.
Seniors Lynch and Tori Sleep swept the 3A throwing events.
The University of Wyoming-bound Panthers each took home their respective shot put and discus medals with relative ease.
“Tori and Garrett are both level-headed and very, very competitive,” Smith said. “I was very confident they would come through.”
Lynch’s mark of 173 feet, 11 inches in the discus was 16 feet, 6 inches better than second place. His record-breaking shot put throw of 59 feet, 5 inches bested teammate Riley Stringer’s second-place toss of 53 feet, 9 1/2 inches.
“I’ve been peaking for two weeks now, so I knew (my best) was going to be at this meet,” Lynch said.
Lynch broke the record on his second-to-last throw, prompting the crowd to clap in unison during his final throw, which fell to earth a couple feet shy of his previous mark.
“I was so excited when they all started clapping,” Lynch said. “I think that’s why I only threw 57, because I was so nervous!”
Sleep’s discus throw of 126 feet, 8 inches was a comfortable 8 feet, 4 inches further than the next-best throw, and she won the shot put with a throw of 41 feet, 4 1/2 inches — 3 feet, 6 inches better than second place.
Like Lynch, Sleep completed her high school athletics career with two titles.
“It was pretty fantastic,” she said. “After working hard for all four years (it) finally pays off.”
Sleep said she fell just shy of her personal goals of the Class 3A shot put record (44 feet, 4 1/4 inches, by Powell’s Jesseca Cross in 1992) and a mark of 140 feet in the discus, but “you can’t be disappointed with two state championships.”
KaDee Harrison won the 200-meter dash in a bang-bang finish on Saturday that helped to keep the girls in a tight race with Cody. The senior’s time of 26.29 edged out Worland’s Shayna Soderstrom, who finished in 26.33. Harrison went 2-1 against Soderstrom in the 200 this season.
“I knew it would be close, and that KaDee was going to have a good chance,” Scott Smith said.
Harrison said after her final event that she realized her time in a Powell Panther uniform was nearing its end.
“It’s starting to sink in,” Harrison said. “Maybe a little bit of tears.”
Junior Kalei Smith came within a half-inch and quarter-second of three state titles, but won the high jump by matching his personal best of 6 feet, 4 inches.
Smith said it was disappointing to settle for second, but he was happy with his performance in Casper, as was his coach.
“He had a great meet,” said Scott Smith (no relation). “He really came a long way the last month.”
They weren’t state titles, but Kalei Smith’s second-place finishes showed his growth.
“I (set personal records) in hurdles and I was close in long jump,” Kalei Smith said. “I didn’t underperform, by any means. It just drives me to be better next year.”
A lightning delay in the high jump Friday afternoon helped Smith to his title, he said. The high jump was finished Saturday morning, and the extra rest for his legs helped him become the only competitor to advance past 6-feet, 2-inches.
“Normally, when you get to about 6 feet, 4 inches, that’s when your legs get tired, so a little bit of rest helps a lot,” Smith said.
The girls’ 4x100-meter relay team of Danna Hanks, SarahJean O’Neill, Brooke Lensegrav and KaDee Harrison won the Friday afternoon race with a time of 50.82.
The boys came into Saturday with a 12-point lead over Cody, and extended it with a strong morning.
Smith secured his high jump title and finished second in the hurdles, and four Panthers scored in shot put to virtually guarantee the boys the state championship.
“By 10, 10:30 in the morning, I was feeling pretty good about the boys’ chances,” Scott Smith said. “It was certainly ours to lose at that point.”
Powell’s impressive collection of championships led the way, but the Panthers’ depth added valuable points by placing in the top half of final events.
“When you only win by nine points, every point counts,” Coach Smith said.
Kalei Smith was the runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles and the long jump, sophomore Anissa Warner was second in the high jump, Harrison was third in the 400-meter dash, freshman Kalina Smith was third in the 100-meter hurdles and fourth in the long jump, senior Shawnea Harrington was third in the discus, senior Brendon Phister was third in the pole vault, Cragoe was fourth in the triple jump and sophomore Danna Hanks took fourth in the 100-meter hurdles.
“A huge number of our kids that went scored points,” the coach said. “Every point put a little more pressure on the other teams.”
For the first time in Coach Smith’s 22 years coaching the Panthers, the boys scored in every event.
Riley Stringer was second to Lynch in the shot put with a personal-best throw of 53 feet, 9 1/2 inches.
“That’s a throw that would win nine out of 10 years,” Coach Smith said.
Stringer’s throw drew cheers from the crowd and redeemed the junior who fell short of the discus finals the day prior.
“I knew today (Saturday) I’d throw well. I knew I had to after (Friday),” Stringer said. “Warm-ups were feeling really good, so I decided I’d just go as far as I could to try to get one.”
Stringer hit his best on his second throw of the day.
“After my first throw everyone just told me to go get one, so I just went as fast I could,” Stringer said. “It was probably faster than all the rest, so it had more power on it.”
Lynch, Stringer, senior Garrett Michael (seventh) and junior Carter Baxter (eighth) each scored in the shot put and comprised half of the podium.
“That’s something we’ve talked about all season, that we all wanted to be on the podium at state,” Stringer said.