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Panther boys forced to juggle lineup

Pre quarterfinals injury bites Powell soccer

A tough state quarterfinal draw for the Panther boys’ soccer team became tougher when Powell learned it would likely be without senior playmaker Dan Katz. An injury Katz suffered during Powell’s 4-0 play-in contest against Rawlins last Friday was diagnosed as a torn meniscus.

“It doesn’t look like Dan’s knee is going to allow him to play,” said Panther soccer coach Travis Rapp. “He’s sat the last two practices and I am planning at this point to not have him.”

The bad news has forced the Panthers to change their strategy for Thursday’s game. Rapp had planned on assigning Katz the task of going one-on-one defending Buffalo’s Kasey Esponda, the Wyoming boys’ soccer player of the year. That task will now likely be delegated to Panther sophomore Jake Christianson and junior Charles Wittick.

“We need to neutralize him,” Rapp said of Esponda. “He didn’t score many goals — just one in garbage time — in the first game, their offense did go through him 90 percent of the time.”

In that first meeting, which took place in Powell in late March, the Panthers were able to jump on the scoreboard first after Dylan Ulmer stole a ball just outside the Bison goal box and won the ensuing one-on-one against the Buffalo keeper.

From there, Buffalo used its team speed to bring relentless pressure on the Panthers’ goal, scoring five times. Four of those five goals came on plays to the back post, a defensive lapse the Panthers quickly worked to counter in practice following that contest.

Offensively, the Panthers attempted to isolate forwards one-on-one against Buffalo defenders to take advantage of what the team felt was superior speed in the offensive zone. Buffalo’s speed at forward and midfield routinely foiled the Panthers’ ability to play the ball forward with accuracy, however.

“We’ll still try to push the ball wide and run our forwards into the corner,” said Rapp of the gameplan for the quarterfinal contest. “All we can do is go in there and play our game to the best of our ability and hopefully we are celebrating at 5:30 p.m.”

Regardless of the outcome, the Panthers will need to recover quickly to prepare for either Worland or Lander. Both teams swept Powell in a pair of regular-season matches.

While the Panthers received bad news about Katz, they did receive a positive diagnosis on the team’s other injury from the Rawlins contest. Keithen Schwahn, the victim of multiple kicks while attempting to make a play on the ground against Rawlins, has been given the green light and is expected to play a full game against Buffalo.

On the girls’ side of the equation, the Panthers will be trying to reverse a 7-0 loss suffered in Buffalo back in March. Powell’s girls played that contest shorthanded with a number of players out of the lineup with other commitments. The result was a Panther lineup containing three freshmen taking the field against a senior-laden Buffalo side.

The shortage of bodies limited Powell to just one second-half substitution as the team’s other players had exhausted their appearances between the junior varsty game and the first half of the varsity contest.

Mother Nature was also a factor in that game. The Panthers delivered the opening kick with a howling wind blowing across the field. As the game progressed, the wind was joined by rain, then sleet and snow in conditions head girls’ coach Brett Hanlin described as “brutal.”

Unfortuantely, history could repeat itself in the quarterfinals as weather forecasts call for a strong chance of rain and unseasonably cold weather for today’s (Thursday’s) quarterfinals. While temperatures should warm Friday and Saturday, the chance of rain remains a constant for all three days of state soccer action in Sheridan.

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