Panthers ready for unconventional season

Posted 12/3/20

March 12 was a normal day for Mason Marchant and his peers — until it wasn’t.

A junior at the time, Marchant and his Powell High School boys’ basketball teammates were about to …

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Panthers ready for unconventional season

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March 12 was a normal day for Mason Marchant and his peers — until it wasn’t.

A junior at the time, Marchant and his Powell High School boys’ basketball teammates were about to load the buses and head to the Class 3A state basketball tournament in Casper. Then they received shocking, disappointing news: The tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

“It was horrible,” Marchant said.

The Panthers had momentum heading into the tournament, winning two of their three prior contests and punching a ticket to the state tournament on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Not being able to finish the season stung at the time, but it’s only fueling the team as it prepares for the 2020-21 season.

“People were doubting us again going into state last year, and we made it to the championship the year before,” Marchant said. “You can’t really count us out ever. We’re just going to use it as fuel this year and hopefully take it all the way.”

Powell returns 11 players from its 2019-20 squad, which finished the season 11-13. Among them are the team’s leading scorers — Marchant and Landon Lengfelder, who averaged 14.6 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. Others include Jaden Marchant, Trevor Groves, Dylan Escalante, Jesse Trotter, Adrian Geller, Landon Sessions, Toran Graham, Reed Smith and Keaton Rowton.

PHS head coach Mike Heny noted the team’s speed and high-percentage shooting as strengths heading into the season.

But the Panthers are lacking in one area: height. With very few post players, Powell will be required to play quick, physical basketball to excel.

“We’re super athletic,” Heny said. “We’re going to try to run a style that fits our guys and just fine tune everything. Try to put the defense in a position to guard us in space and see how it goes from there.”

Marchant added, “We’re not really a tall team, so we’re going to use our speed. And we’ve been in the weight room, so we’re going to try and use our strength to bully some of the little kids down this year.”

While much of the on-court personnel is the same as last year’s, this is Heny’s first year coaching the squad since 2013.

He previously served as head coach from 2009-2013 before the Park County School District 1 Board of Trustees terminated his contract. In the years since, Heny continued to serve as an assistant football coach and he was placed back in charge of the basketball program in April, when Chase Kistler decided to become the head football coach.

Basketball was Heny’s first love from a young age, and he’s thrilled to get another chance to coach the sport.

“For me, this has always been my passion,” Heny said. “Just having the opportunity to get back in the gym has been better than I expected.”

Though Heny and many of the players are familiar faces to the program, the 2020-21 season will be unconventional in several ways. Due to COVID-19, outside events such as team dinners and other pregame or postgame gatherings are prohibited to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

These types of events often boost team chemistry, but Heny said he’s confident the team will still mesh well, despite the absence of these gatherings.

“I think most of the bonds form here,” Heny said. “We’ll just work on that a little more when we’re on the court. We’ll just have to become a brotherhood here on the court.”

It’s also an unusual season from a spectator’s perspective. Only 100 patrons will be permitted to attend PHS home games, with the majority of tickets going to players’ parents. Fans are encouraged to watch online on the NFHS network.

In spite of this, Heny is confident that the Panthers will still have strong support when the season begins.

“The community has always supported all of these kids in every athletic event, and I don’t expect that will be any different this year,” Heny said. “It’s tough, but we’re going to try to maximize who can be here.”

The Panthers are slated to begin the season at Riverton on Thursday, Dec. 10. Eight days later, they’re scheduled to open their home schedule against Rocky Mountain.

Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it’s hard to say if the Panthers will be able to finish the season this year. They could play an entire schedule, or they could play a few games and have the rest axed.

Either way, the Panthers’ goal is simple: leave it all on the court.

“We don’t know how long this season’s going to last, so play like it’s our last game,” Marchant said. “For us seniors, we don’t know when it’s going to be our last game, so I’ve just been telling them to play as hard as they can and hopefully score a lot of points, and the fans can rally around that.”

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