Snapping a five-game losing streak that dated back to the beginning of April, the Powell High School girls’ soccer team head into May on a positive note: The Lady Panthers played Worland to a 1-1 draw Tuesday afternoon at Panther Stadium.
Battling strong winds, light snow and a Lady Warriors team that routed them 5-1 just two weeks ago, the Lady Panthers used a tenacious defense and a Michele Wagner goal to earn a much-needed point in the standings. It gives them a realistic shot at salvaging a state tournament berth.
“Believe it or not, that draw was huge for us,” said PHS head coach Jack Haire. “We worked really hard during the week on getting our minds right, getting our focus back into the game of soccer and not giving up. Coach [Stan] Hedges really lifted the kids up this week, and we saw a drastic change from the Cody game. We played like we knew we could.”
With winds gusting out of the north, Haire elected to play into the wind the first half, a gamble that paid off. Keeper Mattie Larsen had a big first half en route to an impressive 23 saves for the game, as she and the Lady Panthers’ defense held Worland’s potent offense to a single score.
“We knew we wanted to load up defensively to shut them down, so when we won the coin toss, we decided to take the wind the second half,” he explained. “So we loaded up our defense that first half to try and give us a shot at hanging with them. I think we frustrated them.”
Worland scored its only goal of the contest in the game’s 18th minute.
“It was a nice shot [by Worland], but I think if our keeper could go back in time, she would have waited about a half-second longer to jump,” Haire said of Larsen. “She was there, she had a bead on it, she just mistimed it. She’ll get that with time. She’s an outstanding keeper and she had a great game.”
Down 1-0 at the half, Haire said the team was upbeat during the break, knowing they would have the wind at their backs the rest of the contest.
“We loaded up our forwards and mids, and I challenged them to score a goal within the first three minutes — we needed to hit them hard right off the bat,” Haire said.
The Lady Panthers did exactly that. With just under two minutes gone in the second half, Wagner got tangled up with a defender just outside the box, giving her a free kick.
“Michele Wagner’s shot was gorgeous; she just smoked that ball,” Haire said. “It was awesome. Her touches had been good in practice this week, and she was aggressive most of the game, which paid off. She’s just a smart, talented soccer player.”
The game became a defensive struggle after that, though Powell continued to create opportunities. Neither team was able to convert for the rest of the game and into overtime, ending in the 1-1 draw. Haire praised defenders like Payton Asher and Jaighden Rayment for battling through adversity to make the most of their minutes.
“I had heard from some of the other girls that Payton [Asher] was sick the night before, but played three quarters of the game on defense,” he said. “Jaighden Rayment has been dealing with shin problems for four years, and she’s just a warrior out there. When she’s needed, she just runs, and runs hard.”
The Lady Panthers are on the road this weekend, with a game Friday at Lander and Saturday at Pinedale. Powell matches up well with both teams, and for the Lady Panthers to earn a trip to state, wins against both will be crucial.
“Our game plan going into this game [Worland] was to get at least one point; defense the whole game. We got that, so it was so big,” Haire said. “We still have to beat Lander twice — we still have to beat Pinedale. But if one of those things doesn’t happen, that one point will help us. This weekend, we need these games.”