For eight seniors, the Class 3A State Tournament is the culmination of a journey that started back in elementary school.
For their longtime coach, it’s one more trip to Casper before closing the book on a 30-year career.
After stumbling out of the blocks against Lyman in the opening round of the 3A West Regional Tournament, the Powell High School girls’ basketball team rattled off three straight wins to finish third, punching their ticket to state.
“We had a good weekend,” said PHS head coach Scott McKenzie. “It was pretty exciting.”
After finishing the regular season in a three-way tie atop the 3A Northwest Quadrant with Worland and Lander, a coin flip seeded the Lady Panthers (13-7) third heading into the 3A West Regional at Worland. A 54-33 opening-round loss to Lyman had Powell on its heels, but the Lady Panthers regrouped Friday morning with a 56-11 rout of Big Piney. The Powell girls followed that with a 43-41 win over quadrant rival and tournament host Worland Saturday morning, then downed Lander 46-40 in the afternoon for third place.
“It was a great weekend to go 3-1, and a great weekend for these seniors,” McKenzie said.
Seniors Aubrie Stenerson, Rachel Bonander, Ashtyn Heny, Jasyme Lensegrav and Katie McKenzie and Karlie McKenzie have all been playing together since elementary school, while Brea Terry and Devon Curtis joined the team last year.
“As a coach and as a dad, I’m just so happy for them to get to Casper,” coach McKenzie said.
The Lady Panthers open the 3A State Tournament against Rawlins Thursday morning at 9 a.m. at the Casper Events Center. Powell began the 2018-19 season with a 39-34 win over the Outlaws, but McKenzie said both teams have changed a lot since early December.
“Rawlins is playing really well and scoring a lot of points,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough game.”
Lyman 54, Lady Panthers 33
Lyman (17-5) entered the 3A West tourney as the No. 2 seed out of the southwest, sporting a 17-5 record, 5-1 in conference. The Lady Eagles’ size advantage was evident in Thursday’s opening game, as was their talent.
Lyman used a big second quarter to lead 30-10 at the break.
Lyman continued to pour it on in the third quarter, and with the game out of reach in the fourth, McKenzie gave several of his JV players some court time.
“They [Lyman] are the regional champs,” coach McKenzie said. “Their size was quite a bit for us, and they shot the ball well. We had 20 turnovers, which you can’t do against a team like that.”
Stenerson, Bonander and Heny netted six points apiece for Powell, as did junior Michele Wagner. Katie McKenzie, Terry, Curtis and Hailee Hyde finished with two points each, while Rose Graft added one.
For sophomores Hyde and Graft, it was their first varsity points. “We were happy for them,” the coach said.
Bonander grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Karlie McKenzie finished with three steals, rebounds and assists.
Coach McKenzie said after the game, the team talked about staying focused on earning a trip to state.
“We’ve always been able to rebound and shake off losses,” he said. “They came out and did that against Big Piney.”
Lady Panthers 56, Big Piney 11
It was a different team that took the court for Powell on Friday in loser-out action, as everything the team struggled with the day before was rectified against Big Piney (0-21).
Katie McKenzie was lights-out from behind the arc, hitting on 5-of-7 3-pointers to lead the Lady Panthers with 15 points; that tied the school record for most 3s in one game, while her teammates added another four treys.
“That was really neat to see,” coach McKenzie said. “They [Big Piney] tried a gimmick defense on us that left a player open in the corner, and the first three trips down we hit 3s. The girls did a really nice job of being unselfish.”
Bonander finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Stenerson netted 12 points and dished out four assists, while Karlie McKenzie hit a pair of 3-pointers of her own to finish with six points. Devon Curtis chipped in four points, while Heny added three to go along with four assists.
PHS made up for a dismal showing at the foul line against Lyman by going 11-for-16 at the charity stripe, while doing “a great job on the boards,” coach McKenzie said.
He attributed the turnaround to the leadership of his seniors.
Lady Panthers 43, Worland 41
The Lady Panthers returned to the court on Saturday morning against a familiar foe in Worland (7-13), which had dropped a heartbreaker the night before. The winner would head to Casper while the loser’s season would end there.
“We basically had the whole day before to prepare, and they [Worland] had to bounce back from a late night game to an early one,” coach McKenzie said. “And what an epic battle.”
The game stayed close from the start, with Powell up 19-16 at the half.
“We’d get up eight or 10 points, and they would battle back,” the coach said.
Worland cut Powell’s lead to 29-28 going into the final frame, but the Lady Panthers held on for the 43-41 win.
The majority of the offense funneled through Bonander and Stenerson, who combined for 36 points, contributing 19 and 17, respectively.
“Aubrie and Rachel really came through for us,” coach McKenzie said, adding, “They just played hard, and the other girls did a nice job feeding them the ball.”
Terry was a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe, and Katie McKenzie hit the team’s lone 3-pointer while grabbing 10 rebounds.
Bonander and Heny had six rebounds each, while Karlie McKenzie had team highs in assists and steals with three apiece.
“It was just a great, epic game and a great team effort,” coach McKenzie said.
Lady Panthers 46, Lander 40
The Lady Panthers kept their foot on the gas against Lander (9-12) on Saturday afternoon, locking up third place with a 46-40 win.
Powell went up 23-20 at the break. The second half was a tale of two quarters, as a 17-7 run by Powell in the third was countered by a 13-6 Lander run in the fourth. But Powell’s 13-point lead going into the fourth proved insurmountable, with the Lady Panthers holding on for the win.
Stenerson led the charge with 20 points, going 2-for-3 from the 3-point line and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Bonander followed with 16 points and eight rebounds. Katie McKenzie and Michele Wagner each hit from behind the arc for three points each. Lensegrav finished with a team-high four assists and added two steals. Heny and Bonander had three steals each.
“Both teams were tired, and we had to play off a lot of guts,” coach McKenzie said. While Stenerson and Bonander “carried the mail for us again,” he said that Lensegrav “was gigantic in there for us with four assists; she was reading their defense and getting the ball to the right people.”