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Panther cross country: Paper tigers

Panthers have talent to roar in 2010 cross country

There are certainly worse people to be this autumn than head Powell High School cross country coach Cliff Boos. The Panthers return four of the 18 fastest female runners in Class 3A, as well as five of their seven state meet runners on the boys' side last season.

“We've got a nice nucleus,” said Boos. “Overall, I think the team is in reasonably good shape to begin the year. They're showing good enthusiasm and doing a good job of supporting each other. It's a hard-working bunch.”

For the Powell High girls' team, which has returned from each of the last four state meets with some form of hardware, including a pair of state titles, the story line really doesn't appear to have changed much from last year to this year. The Panthers are blessed with an abundance of talent, but will have to dodge the injury bug as the team lacks depth.

Just seven runners will be in uniform for the PHS girls this season, but two of those four have previous all-state credentials in cross country. Junior Desiree Murray was fourth at last year's state meet and is a two-time all-state runner in Wyoming.

Classmate Alyssa Rodriguez was all-state as a freshman before narrowly missing last year with a 12th-place finish.

Kassey MacDonald, the only senior on this year's girls' team, placed 17th a year ago, one place better than sophomore Brooke Nisley, who garnered all-conference honors as a freshman before placing 18th at her first state meet.

Looking to help support that foursome will be sophomore Tally Wells and freshmen Carley Klein and Sierra Morrow. At least one of the three will need to run well to occupy the fifth scoring slot in the Panthers' team total at each meet.

On the boys' side, the Panthers will look to bounce back after an injury-riddled ‘09 campaign that saw them place seventh as a team at state.

“We had a lot of kids that spent time rehabbing last year, riding the bike, working on the elliptical trainer and that sort of thing,” Boos recalled.

Despite those problems, the Panthers were able to fight through and place second at its conference meet.

Seniors Danny McKearney and Tyler McCauley lead a 16-man roster for the Powell boys this season. The pair placed 21st and 23rd, respectively, at last year's state meet for the Panthers. They'll be joined by juniors Bodie Friday (29th in 2009) and Wyatt Horner (69th) and sophomore Andrew Feller (50th) are returning state roster members.

The Panthers get even better news in the return of senior Cody Fagley. Fagley was Powell's strongest runner during the 2009 regular season, but came down with an illness late in the season and was forced to miss both the conference and state meets for the Panthers. His return could provide Powell with a formidable amount of experience and depth.

“We won't be at full strength for the first meet for either the boys or the girls,” Boos said, adding that most other schools probably will be in the same boat when they line up in Cody on Friday for the season's first meet. “We'll have some kids that won't have the required nine practices in yet.”

Boos noted the Panthers were scheduled to have a Wednesday time trial among the boys to determine the varsity roster members for that meet.

Regardless of how things go this week, the long-term challenge for both Panther teams will likely be similar to last season. Both teams will be battling against Jackson for bragging rights in 3A West and likely some high-level state hardware.

“Jackson's definitely the strongest on our side,” Boos said of the program that captured the 2009 girls' 3A title and missed claiming the boys' trophy by two points. “The way they feed kids out of their cross country ski program is tremendous, plus it's a great place to run and train with all the hills. They'll definitely be our biggest challenge on this side of the state.”

Much of the Panthers' early cross country schedule takes place on the road as the team opens at Cody before traveling to Billings. Road trips to Lander, Rocky Mountain, Thermopolis and Worland also dot the September calendar. Powell hosts its own meet on Oct. 8, one week ahead of the conference meet, which will take place in Lyman. The 3A state meet will take place in Douglas.

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