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Lady Panthers look to build on successful season

Powell High School girls head basketball coach Scott McKenzie helps senior Megan Wagner get into position during a Dec. 5 drill. Junior Breanna Donarski (with back to camera) looks for an opening while senior Jenni Ebersberger screens sophomore Kalina Smith (at right). The girls open their season Friday afternoon at Cody’s East-West Classic. Powell High School girls head basketball coach Scott McKenzie helps senior Megan Wagner get into position during a Dec. 5 drill. Junior Breanna Donarski (with back to camera) looks for an opening while senior Jenni Ebersberger screens sophomore Kalina Smith (at right). The girls open their season Friday afternoon at Cody’s East-West Classic. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

PHS ranked No. 2 by WyoPreps

Great defense helped propel the Powell High School girls basketball team to a third-place finish last season. This time around, they hope their defense wins them the proverbial championship.

The Lady Panthers capped last year’s 19-9 campaign with bronze at the Class 3A state tournament, bolstered by the class’ stingiest defense (allowing just 35.5 points a game).

“We have to hold those standards high,” said senior Jenni Ebersberger.

“They’ve made that a goal: They want to do that again this year,” said PHS head coach Scott McKenzie. “We just want to make teams take more difficult shots. We want to make teams work for everything that they get; no easy baskets.”

The girls will take the court at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the East-West Classic Tournament in Cody. They’ll face off with Newcastle in a rematch of last year’s third-place game.

Saturday contests with Rawlins (9 a.m.) and Wheatland (6 p.m.) complete the Lady Panthers’ schedule for the opening weekend.

The Powell girls will be putting on a lot of full-court pressure in several different varieties, McKenzie said.

“Definitely good challenges for us, to see what we need to work on,” he added. “This group is very talented at reading the ball and reacting.”

Aiding the effort will be the team’s size. McKenzie believes he’ll have the tallest Powell girls in years: four players stand 5 foot 10 inches or taller.

A year ago, the team finished in the middle of the pack offensively, ranking ninth (of 16) with an average of 42 points a game.

“We offer a lot of offensive threats this year,” McKenzie said. “We have a lot of girls that can score the basketball.

“We think it will be difficult for teams to shut everyone down on the same night,” the coach added, saying the squad has shown unselfishness with the basketball.

Leading the way will be seniors Megan Wagner and Ebersberger, both entering their third year as varsity starters.

“Counting on that experience,” McKenzie said.

Ebersberger earned All-State honors last season after being the West Conference’s fourth-best free throw shooter (71 percent), third-best scorer (11.5 points a game), second-best thief (2.9 steals per game) and the entire class’ assists leader (3.6 per game). Wagner, meanwhile, averaged 3.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and two steals per game; her steals ranked 10th in Class 3A West.

McKenzie said a quartet of juniors are also slotted on the varsity squad: Breanna Donarski, who saw “tons” of varsity experience as sophomore, Danna Hanks, who also got in varsity time last year, Anissa Warner, who nabbed some varsity minutes and “has really improved,” plus Richelle Phister. Donarski shot 3-pointers at a 32 percent clip last year — seventh best in Class 3A West — while averaging 5.5 points.

Phister will help the varsity as a guard while also helping lead the junior varsity squad, McKenzie said. Other juniors being counted on for JV leadership are Kinsey Ashby and Lexee Craig.

Don’t be surprised to see some sophomores playing important minutes, too, including Kalina Smith. She made her mark as a freshman, finishing the year as Class 3A West’s fifth-best shot blocker (1.2 a game), third-best free throw shooter (72 percent) and second-best 3-point shooter (36 percent).

“We have a very talented sophomore class,” said McKenzie.

They include Dani Asay, who’s currently working hard through an injury, and a pair of solid players in Jennifer Bonander and Tayli Stenerson, McKenzie said.

Mallory Triplett, Nicole Sanders and Rachelle Cole are another three talented sophomores working hard, plus two newcomers: Olivia Veal and Olivia Lang.

McKenzie’s only suiting up 10 gals for varsity at the season’s start, “so these girls can compete for those slots later on.”

Panther fans should expect to see a starting five of Ebersberger, Wagner, Donarski, Hanks and Smith, McKenzie said.

He said PHS is drawing three good, scrappy and well-coached squads in Newcastle, Rawlins and Wheatland this weekend.

“No freebies for us,” McKenzie said.

Things won’t get easier, either.

The Lady Panthers will close out the 2014 portion of the season next weekend in Buffalo and Sheridan (an early favorite in Class 4A) while after the Christmas break looms a Jan. 17 visit to Douglas, the defending Class 3A state champs.

Powell picked up the No. 2 position in the WyoPreps.com Class 3A Coaches and Media Poll (behind Douglas), but McKenzie said preseason rankings don’t matter.

“(It’s) nice for the (PHS) girls to be recognized for their hard work at the end of last season, but everyone starts 0-0 this weekend, so we’re all even,” he said, adding, “I’m sure that those preseason rankings may not be the same in March.”

Class 3A West gets a shake-up

Class 3A has been shaken up a bit for the 2014-15 basketball season.

For starters, say goodbye to Lyman and hello to Lovell. The Big Horn County rival was forced up into the bigger class from 2A after Lyman’s high school enrollment shrunk below Lovell’s.

That means a pair of conference match-ups with Lovell this season for the Powell roundballers.

Secondly, say goodbye to some of the long road trips.

In recent years, all of Class 3A West’s eight opponents played each other twice: once as host and once as a visitor. This year, however, the conference is being further divided into northern and southern halves.

Powell will continue to play its northern neighbors — Lovell, Lander and Cody — two times in the regular season, but will face the conference’s southern members — Mountain View, Pinedale, Star Valley and Jackson — just once.

PHS will have just one long conference road trip a year, either to Star Valley and Jackson or to Mountain View and Pinedale, while playing host to the other two.

— CJ Baker

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