“We’ve got a great opening weekend, and we’ll know a lot more about ourselves after that,” said PHS head coach Luke Danforth.
The Lady Panthers’ first contest will be against Class 4A Riverton (1-23 last season) at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
On Saturday, they’ll face Newcastle (5-22) at 9 a.m. and at 4 p.m., PHS plays Wheatland (24-6 overall), the defending Class 3A state champion.
The Lady Panthers are coming off a 2010-2011 campaign in which they went 12-15 overall (7-7 in Class 3A West). They made it to the state tournament, but struggled there.
The team lost its two All Conference players to graduation: Leslie Thronburg and Olivia Rogers, and also said goodbye to another graduating starter, Randi Asay.
This year, Danforth said the team will be led by its two seniors, Kendra Ostrom and Savannah Holt.
“Both have provided good leadership,” he said, noting their three prior seasons with the team.
Ostrom (7.7 points a game, 2.7 rebounds), was a starter and top 3-point threat last year, sinking a healthy 33 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. Holt played in 17 games.
“We’ve been excited about their positive attitude and leadership,” Danforth said of the seniors. “We expect big contributions from each of them.”
Behind them will be a slew of juniors who earned letters for their extended varsity play last year: Alyssa Hildebrand (6.9 points/3.4 rebounds), Tess Mitchell, Kadi Cooley, Becky Dent and Amy Danforth.
Beyond that, “We expect support from a variety of girls that will be new to varsity competition this year,” Coach Danforth said. “That will round out what we expect will be a well-rounded group.”
A total of 31 girls went out for basketball this year, including eight freshmen.
“We’ve got a big group of girls. They’re very athletic, working hard,” he said, adding that he’s been pleased with their positive attitudes.
The Lady Panthers may try a little more up-tempo style of basketball this year, but otherwise, fans and opponents should expect to see a similar approach.
“We plan on having a balanced attack, we want to play good defense,” Danforth said. The defense still needs a lot of work, he said, and this weekend will be a good chance to find out “what things we do really well and what things we need to work on.”
“We’re looking forward to a really competitive and fun basketball season ... There should be some really good 3A basketball across the state,” he said.
Champ Wheatland returns most of its squad on the eastern side and “should be the odds-on favorite to repeat,” the Powell coach said. That prediction is backed up by the Lady Bulldogs’ No. 1 pre-season ranking in 3A by WyoPreps.com’s media and coaches poll.
Meanwhile, Danforth said PHS’ own western half of the class should be stronger this year: Cody (No. 3 in the preseason poll) will be tough, as will 3A West newcomer Star Valley (which replaces Worland); Lander will have one of its best teams in years; Mountain View also brings a record of state tournament success and Jackson is always strong.
Plus, Coach Danforth said, “I’d like to think that we’ll be in the mix of all that.”