The year was 1998.
That was the last time that the Powell Panther boys’ basketball team lifted a state championship in 3A basketball, and this year’s team hopes to erase 25 years of …
The year was 1998.
That was the last time that the Powell Panther boys’ basketball team lifted a state championship in 3A basketball, and this year’s team hopes to erase 25 years of frustration with a talented squad returning to the court.
That squad is led by a group of six returning rotation seniors, who all saw significant playing time last season. And all five starters return for a team that finished fifth at state with a 19-8 record.
“We’ve got a lot of experience, we’ve made a couple of trips in a row to state,” coach Mike Heny said.
That includes two-time returning All-State selection Brock Johnson who is coming off a season where he averaged nearly 14 points a game while also leading the Panthers in assists and steals (more than two per game in each).
Along with Johnson will be returning All-Conference selection Gunnar Erickson, who averaged nearly identical stats to his backcourt counterpart.
The other three starters returning from last year’s team are Marshall Lewis, Jhett Schwahn and Trey Stenerson — who all contributed between five and seven points for the Panthers while Stenerson was the leading rebounder.
“I really like where we are at,” Heny said. “I really like our squad and what we have.”
The one player lost from the bench rotation was Jace Hyde, who graduated.
The other two primary options off the bench last season are senior Cade Queen and junior Alex Jordan.
Queen averaged three points last year while Jordan averaged four.
Juniors looking to become additions to the rotation this season will likely include Evan Whitlock, Keona Wisniewski and Dawson Griffin — who all saw playing time sparingly last season.
“We are going to have more depth than we’ve had in a long time,” Heny said. “How deep the bench goes will get decided as we go and whoever earns those minutes.”
Those players along with some sophomores may look to make an impact on the rotation.
Powell will also bring in significant off-season playing experience to the team, having several Panthers playing club basketball in both Montana and Utah over the summer months.
“Marshall had a great summer,” Heny said. “He was kind of our leader … he led these younger guys. We went and did our battles up in Billings and cut our teeth. With Gunnar going to Utah and playing AAU we had a really good developmental summer. That has just added to our depth with [Alex Jordan] playing AAU all spring and into the summer. We have a few weaknesses but not very many and as a coach that is nice that we can focus on what we need to do to get better and polish up what we bring back.”
Another team dynamic will be a level of championship experience, with four of the Panthers playing on the Powell Pioneer state championship baseball team.
“I would love to have those guys in the gym over the summer but if they are not they play baseball at a high level and they have that tournament experience,” Heny said. “Those experiences bode well across other sports because they have been there and the pressure doesn’t get to them.”
This season Powell is expected to be in the mix against a pair of eastern conference opponents alongside an improving west.
Those opponents in the east are Douglas, which is returning a majority of its roster, alongside Buffalo who boasts one of the best players in the state in Eli Patterson who is surrounded by younger talent.
Those eastern conference opponents are countered by an improving team in quadrant foe Lovell, along with southwest opponent Pinedale which returns a strong core of guards.
“We don’t have anything penciled in, we just know we have the ability to be there on Saturday afternoon at the events center. We are just going to play our butts off and see where that ends up,” Heny said.
He said the team will be looking to push the pace this season, using the bench depth to their advantage to try and jump ahead of teams early and often.
The season will kick off for the Panthers in Fremont County this weekend, playing three games in three days on Thursday-Saturday.