Led by a pair of goals from freshman Hawkin Sweeney and a goal from sophomore Sam Bauer, the Powell High School boys’ soccer team blanked Buffalo 3-0 on the road to open the 2019 season.
It was also the first win for new head coach Dave Gilliatt, who took over the reins last month.
“Good to get a win right out of the gate, for sure. Everyone did their job,” Gilliatt said. “We made some mistakes, but we knew going into it we would. I think the key was just being prepared for that, and then covering for each other as teammates when mistakes happened.”
Sweeney scored the team’s first goal of the season on a penalty kick, after being fouled in the box in the first half. Bauer found the back of the net a short time later off an assist by junior Cameron Wentz, and the Panthers led 2-0 at the half.
“Just outside of the 18, Cameron [Wentz] played a nice, accurate pass right to Sam [Bauer]’s feet,” Gilliatt said. “Sam still had a little work to do — he dribbled past one defender and finished with a hard, low, driving shot the keeper couldn’t save.”
Sweeney scored his second goal in the second half, assisted by a half-field pass from sophomore Landon Sessions.
“He [Sweeney] took it out of the air, went one-on-one with the keeper and scored,” Gilliatt said.
Sweeney’s goal gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead, and that’s how the game would end. Gilliatt praised his defense — led by sophomores Lane Franks at left back and Ashton Brewer in goal — for preserving the shutout.
“Lane [Franks] was the defensive standout for the game,” Gilliatt said. “I’ve watched and played with Lane for several years, and know he has a good soccer IQ. But I’ve never seen him execute it to that level like he did on Saturday. When someone plays like that, they inspire the guys around them.”
As for Brewer, Gilliatt said the keeper had a busy day in goal, highlighted by a pair of impressive saves.
“He [Brewer] helped us keep a clean sheet, so that’s a big deal,” Gilliatt said. “Good on him for that.”
With opening-day jitters working overtime prior to the game, Gilliatt said senior Steven Shopa did a nice job of keeping the team focused, emerging as a vocal leader.
“He [Shopa] helped players maintain and keep their focus before and during the game,” he said. “That was key, because the girls’ game went into overtime, so our start time was pushed back a bit.”
Gilliatt praised assistant coach Russ Schwahn for letting the team know during practices that mistakes are part of the game.
“I think I need to be cognizant that at times my expectations might be too high,” Gilliatt said. “I don’t want to lower my expectations too much, but I think that’s a good counsel to give to the players that mistakes are going to happen; let’s focus on recovering for each other once they’re made.”
The Panthers are on the road again this weekend, scheduled to compete in the Pinnacle Challengers Cup in Worland Friday and Saturday. Powell opens the tournament against Rawlins at 1 p.m.
Gilliatt said he’d like to see his team be more vocal, something younger players often have to learn to get comfortable with.
“Kids sometimes lack the confidence to shout, to truly let all their inhibitions go and call for the ball,” he said. “But I think we’re getting there. I would like my players to just be more vocal, especially taking balls out of the air.”
Gilliatt said the team will continue to hone its skills this week.
“We want to celebrate the win, but we are back to work on Monday,” he said. “If we just sit on this win, we’re not getting any better.”
You can’t make a player better in two weeks, according to the new coach, but you can recognize players’ strengths and weaknesses and to put them in a position to be successful.
With just a few outdoor practices under their belts, Gilliatt said the Panther did a nice job adjusting to having a whole field.
“We’ve been really limited on what we could do in the gym, so we had to focus a lot on small gameplay drills,” he explained. “I wasn’t sure how well that would translate to an open field; you can’t do 11 v. 11 on a basketball court. We weren’t perfect, but we didn’t fail, either. A 3-0 victory, I’m happy with that.”
Gilliatt brought in players from Northwest College last week to scrimmage the varsity, giving the Panthers a chance to play against a higher level of competition in preparation for Buffalo.
“I wanted the college players to expose our errors, and they did,” he said. “We knew afterwards a little bit more of what to focus on, because they could actually see it. They [the Panthers] played well in that scrimmage; they played smart and looked sharp at times. We could tell we have some quality to work with, so I was pleased with the outcome.”