With Cody’s Fillies owning a seeming stranglehold on the 3A girls’ title chase, most of the eyes in Class 3A circles will drift toward the anticipated head-to-head battle between the Panthers and Douglas, two regional champions that both topped 230 points last weekend.
“I think we have a slight edge, but if everyone goes out and records a personal best and we end up taking second, I’ll still be happy,” Smith said. “If everyone does the best they can and we lose, then we just got beat by a better team.”
Much like the Panthers’ epic battle with Cody two seasons ago, this weekend’s duel with Douglas won’t have its outcome hinging on any one competitor or event. Instead, the championship will likely become a numbers game with the title going to whichever program does the better job of fighting and clawing its way up the standings for additional points.
In that regard, Powell appears to have a numbers edge. The Panther boys field three or more participants in 11 of the 14 individual events. Powell also brings in the state’s fastest relay times in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays. The Panther 4x800 holds the second-fastest time in the state.
“I think one of the keys for us is our distance runners,” Smith said. “We’ve never had that really fast runner, but with four guys (in the 1600 and 3200), I think we can let them get out there and run, and they can push each other forward and get some points for us. You look at the times they had and the fact they were running at 7,000 feet last week, and I think we’ve got a chance for some good points.”
Similarly, on the girls’ side, the Panthers field a full stable of four runners in the 1600. Powell will line up three competitors in Thursday’s 3200-meter finals. Like the boys, the Panther girls aren’t favored to crown a state champion at either distance, but could receive points from any or all runners in the field.
Another area of competition to keep an eye on will lie in the shot put and discus rings. The Panther boys have three in both the shot put and discus competition. Powell’s girls will throw three in the shot put and two in discus.
It’s just a small percentage of what throws coach Nevin Jacobs has overseen this season.
“We had 20 throwers,” Jacobs said. “It has just been a great group to work with. They’ve all gotten along. Having Jake (Beuster) has been a help, because he’s been with the program for four years and he’ll go over and coach kids and share what he knows if he sees something.”
Beuster enters the weekend having turned in the top throw from regional competition. As such, he’ll have the luxury of throwing last during the preliminary rounds.
“I really think Jake is putting it all together,” Jacobs said. “I think he’s got a big throw waiting to come out down there. Casper’s a great place to get a big throw in the discus, because you’re almost always throwing into a headwind with the layout down there.”
The bigger question mark could come in shot put competition, Jacobs said.
“You look at the kids from regionals and what they’ve done throughout the year, and it could take a throw of 46 feet just to break into the finals this season,” Jacobs assessed.
That’s a number that all three of the Panther boys — Beuster, Vince Sleep and Garrett Lynch — have proven capable of hitting. The trick will be uncorking one of those throws on Friday afternoon when it matters.
For the Panther girls, personal records were the order of the day in regional competition where both Marquette McArthur and Tori Sleep turned in their top discus marks of the season last week. The new numbers place both among the state’s top competitors. The pair will join forces with freshman Shawnea Harrington in an effort to score for the Panthers in shot put competition as well.
The weekend will also represent the end of a stellar high school career for a trio of Powell boys. Kyle Sullivan returns to Casper as a two-time state champion in the high jump and holds the best mark out of regional competition as he searches for a trifecta.
Sullivan is also considered the favorite in both the 110 and 300-meter hurdles when those races line up in Casper.
Like Sullivan, Panther Drew MaGill will be busy this weekend. The longtime state fixture in the Panthers’ lineup will take one final stab at a state title in both the long and triple jumps. He’ll also line up in the 100 and 200 meters where he’ll look to chase down Douglas speedster Justin Melton, who set a 3A record in the 100 meters at last year’s state meet.
Colby Gilmore, meanwhile, has been overshadowed in part due to his presence on several Powell relay teams. The senior speedster runs legs on the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, both favored for gold this weekend. Gilmore will also be part of the 200-meter field, where Powell delivered three of the four fastest regional times last weekend in Pinedale, and the 400 meters, where he flirted with the 50-second barrier.
On the girls’ side, Powell junior Desiree Murray looks to hold a number of points in her hands for the Panthers. The junior had the fastest 300-meter hurdle time at regionals and should press toward the front of the pack in both the 110-meter hurdles and 400 meters as well this week.
A lot of heads though will perk up when she steps on the track Thursday evening to carry the baton on the lead leg of the Panthers’ 4x800 relay. With teammates Sierra Morrow, Tally Wells and Kassey MacDonald, she helped shatter a long-standing school record and turn in a sub-10 minute time.
Junior Kendra Ostrom returns to Casper for a second year holding one of the state’s best high jump performances. Just like last season when the state title appeared up for grabs in the event, Ostrom again should be in the thick of what forecasts to be a crowded shootout for the state title.
One remaining wild card for the weekend will be the weather. Predictions for Thursday’s high temperature in Casper have dropped to 45 degrees in recent days. There’s a 70 percent chance of rain for the first two days of the state meet, dropping to 40 percent for Saturday’s finals. Winds — pretty much a fixture in any Wyoming spring — are expected to sustain themselves at 15-20 miles per hour for all three days.
“We’ll just go and do the best we can,” said Smith. “If we need to shuttle kids to and from the stadium to keep them out of the elements, we’ll do that.”
State track action gets started at 11 a.m. today (Thursday). The Panthers shouldn’t have to wait long to see themselves on the scoreboard. The boys’ discus is the first field event of the day. Approximately half an hour later, the girls’ 3200 meters will lineup up with Tally Wells, Tess Mitchell and Sierra Morrow looking to get the Powell girls started.
Boys’ long jump, girls’ high jump and shot put and the 4x800 relays will also determine state champions on the first day of the state track meet.