After nearly a full week off from games, the Powell High School boys’ soccer team returned to the pitch Monday at home against Riverton, taming the Wolverines 2-1.
The win brings the Panthers’ record to 7-2 on the season, 2-1 in the 3A West. It also solidified the team’s No. 2 ranking in the state in 3A behind Worland, which Powell will face Thursday on the road.
“I thought our passing initially was really going well for us. We were being patient and spreading the field,” PHS head coach Dave Gilliatt said of the Riverton contest. “I think our patience was what was paying off. When we started to try to rush things a little more, I think that’s when we started playing more to the style of our opponent. Once we started playing at their level, it became more of an even game.”
The Panthers got off to a quick start, teeing off on the Riverton keeper Hjalte Dencher with multiple shots in the game’s opening minutes and putting Riverton on its heels.
“Soccer can be kind of a cruel sport,” Gilliatt said. “You can outshoot the other team and out-possess the other team the whole game and never score, then the other team can have a breakaway and go score on you and win the game. So we wanted to score quick, getting those early shots was ideal.”
Freshman forward Hawkin Sweeney found the back of the net with just seven minutes gone in the game, and it appeared initially that Powell would be scoring early and often.
“For me, it was a very good goal,” Gilliatt said. “Kaleb Brown had a good cross-in and Hawkin [Sweeney] was in the right place at the right time and crashed the box. It looked like he took it out of the air on a volley. It was definitely a nice strike.”
Despite the quick score, goals would be at a premium for the rest of the first half, as neither team was able to capitalize on opportunities. Powell went into halftime still holding a 1-0 lead. Gilliatt took the break to tell the team to get back to the style of play that had worked so well in the game’s first 20 minutes: staying patient, passing more and finding the guy with the best shot.
“A lot of times when guys are around the ball in or around the 18-yard box, they think they’re in shooting range,” Gilliatt said. “That might be OK if that’s the best shot, but sometimes there might be another person who might have a better angle or closer to the goal. So we’re working on making that last pass, one more pass to set up a better shot.”
The Panthers continued to move the ball well in the second half, though Riverton began to create more scoring opportunities. With 23 minutes left in the game, the Wolverines took advantage of a loose ball in the box following a corner kick to bring the score back to even at 1-1.
“That seems to be where we get scored on the most, when things are messy in front of the net,” Gilliatt said. “I hate to call it a garbage goal, because I don’t want to discredit the other team; a goal is a goal no matter how it’s scored, and they earned it. But we need to clean up our defending in the box. We need to defend, even when we’re disorganized.”
The Panthers’ defense stepped up their game following the Wolverines’ goal, with keeper Ashton Brewer making a number of nice saves down the stretch. Sophomore midfielder Jesse Trotter scored the gamewinner in the 63rd minute off a corner kick by Garrett Morris. Much like the Riverton goal, Trotter took advantage of chaos in front of the net to redirect Morris’ kick past the keeper after it bounced off someone else.
“It was a big goal for [Trotter],” Gilliatt said. “He did a nice job of staying with the play. That was the difference in the game.”
As for Morris, Gilliatt awarded him the Man of the Match for his impact in the middle.
“Honestly, he makes a big impact for us as a holding mid every game he’s in,” the coach explained, adding, “Goals are usually pretty weighty in that decision-making process. But I just felt like Garrett [Morris] needed to be recognized for how he held the midfield and controlled the speed of play.”
Sweeney also had a solid game on both sides of the ball.
“What Hawkin [Sweeney] gives me is offense and defense,” Gilliatt said. “He’s a very complete package as a center midfielder. He won a lot of balls in the air and provided a lot of distribution. He’s done very well in the last few games.”
Another freshman who continues to impress is Reece Bauer, who made his second consecutive start at outside back. His hard work in practice has paid off in minutes on the pitch.
“Reece [Bauer] is a good player, a very smart player, so what you get with him is good positioning and a good soccer IQ,” Gilliatt said. “He understands where he needs to be before the ball gets there, getting the ball before it gets to the winger he’s defending. If he keeps playing great, I’m going to keep playing him.”
The Panthers are in Worland today (Thursday) for a battle of the state’s top two teams. The Warriors are perfect at 8-0 and 4-0 in the 3A West; the two teams met earlier this season in the Challenger’s Cup, with the Warriors winning 2-1.
“I think Worland is the one team that plays the closest to our style of play,” Gilliatt said. “I know that we can hang with them. My boys just need to believe that they can beat them. I believe that we can beat them. It will be an intersting game with both teams playing with fresh legs as opposed to the third game of a tournament. It just depends on who shows up.”