After an 11-2 steamrolling at the hands of the top-ranked Worland Warriors last month, Powell High School boys soccer coach Jeff Dent promised the teams’ next matchup would be much more competitive.
“We plan on doing things better and making it a game,” Dent said last week.
The Panthers didn’t disappoint. Worland (8-1) took the field at Panther Stadium Monday with their trademark physical brand of soccer, but instead of rocking back on their heels as they had in the previous contest, the Panthers (2-5-1) answered with a physical style of their own. Both teams created scoring opportunities but struggled to find the back of the net. After scoring a quick goal, the Warriors were able to hold on for the 1-0 win.
“The game was played in the middle of the field, not on our end or their end,” Dent said. “That’s an awesome feeling and a good thing to see. It made me very proud of the team.”
Despite the loss, Dent said there was a lot to like about the way his team played.
“I think my team really stepped up and played hard,” Dent said. “It was a more physical game than what we’re used to, and I think that also motivated the boys to play harder.”
The Panthers have made ball control and possession their primary focus the last couple of weeks, and Dent said he’s beginning to see results.
“The guys did a great job of working the ball around,” he said. “We didn’t really make any major changes at the half. I had made some changes to the defensive line prior to the Douglas game, and I think that made a major difference to the team also. We have a little more speed back there.”
Dent moved Jace Smith to the sweeper position, a decision made to better utilize the senior defender’s quickness. Steven Shopa and Garrett Stutzman were moved to the stopper position in front of Smith, creating a formidable wall against attacking opponents.
“When you get a solid defense in place, you can begin to work forward,” Dent explained. “That happened a lot in this game, and if we keep going with that lineup, our midfielders are are going to learn to trust them [the defense] more, not be so quick to fall back into a defensive position. We’re just going to become more solid as a team.”
Dent also made a point of giving some field time to his bench, providing some of his younger players some much-needed game experience.
“I put in some guys I normally don’t put in as often in a varsity game, especially one as high-pressure as this one,” he said. “I put Grant Jeide, Jesse Trotter and Adrian Geller in, and all three played hard. They played like we tell them they need to in practice, get the ball and pass it right away. They knew they had to move fast, and they did.”
Dylan Lowery and Lane Franks also saw time on the pitch.
“When Dylan gets focused, he’s a dangerous player — and he was focused against Worland. It was fun to watch.” Dent said. “Lane got in and made a lot of good moves. For a young roster, I have a deep roster. Everybody that got in that game, played that game, and played it hard.”
Dent is still struggling with naming a starter at the keeper position, though both Gabe Katz and Ashton Brewer saw action against Worland. Brewer started the game for the Panthers and played well before a knock to the head took him briefly out of the game.
“I decided to put Ashton [Brewer] in because of his aggressive play,” Dent said. “It was benefitting us until he got injured; he got kicked in the mouth and had to come off for a bit. I put Gabe [Katz] in and he stepped right up; he was full-speed from the beginning.”
After clearing concussion protocol on the sideline, Brewer returned to the net late in the second half, recording three big saves at the end of the game.
“I have a strong goalie squad,” Dent said. “It’s still in the air who’s going to be my starter, but I can rely on either one to get the job done.”
The Panthers are on the road Tuesday, squaring off with their cross-county rivals in Cody. Dent said the Broncs are an “excellent team and very well-coached,” but after Powell’s showing against Worland, he’s expecting a competitive contest.
“To take on the number one team in the state after losing to them 11-2, and have our boys play a full game with them and only lose 1-0 is just amazing,” Dent said. “It says a lot about how the boys are buying into the program, as well as maturing physically and mentally on the game of soccer.”