We’re around the halfway point of the winter sports seasons for everyone except that handful of indoor track types who just more or less started competition recently. As coaches, players and fans start to focus on the finish line at the end of the home stretch, it is obvious that plenty of excitement awaits.
Nowhere do things look crazier than in 3A boys’ basketball. Star Valley has established itself as a frontrunner in the eyes of many around the state, but after that you can start drawing names out of a hat. This week’s Wyopreps coaches and media poll sees seven of the remaining 15 3A hoop teams receiving votes as the state’s No. 2 team. One team receiving a first-place vote in the poll — Douglas — isn’t even ranked in the top five.
Square in the middle of that question mark are the hometown Powell Panthers, currently unranked and staring up in the rankings at a No. 4 Lyman team that they’ve already defeated on the road. The Panthers just moved back above the .500 mark with Tuesday’s victory over Worland, but also sit just one game in back of Star Valley in the 3A West standings.
Circle Feb. 1 on the calendar. That’s the date the Panthers open a weekend road trip by going to Afton with the potential to throw 3A basketball into a complete uproar if they can trip up the Braves.
On the girls’ side, 2013 hasn’t started with quite the sizzle that 2012 ended with for the Panther girls, but in doing so that’s created some drama all of its own. Powell is currently part of a four-school jumble where the teams are within a half-game of each other in the league standings. There’s some work to be done to bridge the two-game gap between Powell and a top-four seed, but performance is every bit as important for the girls as it is for the boys as the difference between a fifth seed and an eighth seed can be monumental come the end of the year.
The Panther girls can begin that important climb back up the 3A West ladder next weekend when Lander and Pinedale, two other teams lodged in that half-game spread, come to town. Clearly, defending the home floor is imperative.
In the college ranks, the Trapper men and women are both stuck mid-table currently. Traditionally, every game in Region IX is an important one — that’s just how balanced things are top-to-bottom in this part of the country most years — but Northwest has an important doubleheader coming up on Wednesday, Jan. 23, when Gillette College comes to town. Gillette’s women’s team is currently tied with the Trappers in the standings. The Pronghorn men are a game in front of Northwest. Wins for both teams will shape the second half of the season and could make a difference in seeding come tournament time.
On the wrestling mats, the Panthers are part of what many expect to be a three-team horserace in 3A with Douglas and Star Valley. Fans got a teaser of what that race could look like just before the holiday break.
The Panthers feature a good mix of elder leadership and talented young blood. If you haven’t had a chance to see the team in action, make it a point to be at the Powell High School gym on Thursday, Jan. 24, to see the second-ranked Panthers in action in their final home dual of the season against No. 4 Worland.
The Northwest College wrestlers also have a big event coming up next weekend as the Apodaca Duals return with a loaded field. North Idaho, Clakamas, Iowa Central and Western Wyoming will join the Trappers to bring five of the nation’s top 14 junior college wrestling teams to Powell for some top-notch action that will have plenty of folks around the nation keeping watch on the outcome. That will also be the last chance for Trapper fans to watch their team before the postseason arrives.
In the pool, the Panther swimmers have qualified 11 for state already. That’s great news for the squad and puts it ahead of last year’s pace for this point in the season. Expect that number to rise as February arrives and kids keep making dramatic cuts to their times.
So expect plenty of excitement these next six weeks as we ramp up to the winter postseason. All of Powell’s teams have plenty to play for and there will be plenty of pivotal dates on the sports calendar.