After a roller coaster 2018 campaign that saw the Powell High School girls’ soccer team’s state hopes dashed in heartbreaking fashion in the final game of the season, head coach Jack Haire said his team is ready to right the ship.
Against Buffalo in last season’s state play-in game, the Lady Panthers built a 2-0 lead, only to see it disappear in a flurry of Lady Bison scoring, losing 3-2. Powell can exact a measure of revenge this weekend, as they open the 2019 season at Buffalo. The game is set to start at noon on Saturday.
“We’re looking pretty good, our starting team is pretty solid,” Haire said. “We’re young on our back-ups, but overall we have a solid program. They’re working so hard right now.”
Haire has an explosive trio of weapons in senior Jaya Smith and juniors Kayla Kolpitcke and Michele Wagner returning this season, as well as experienced players in Rachel Kuntz, Madi Fields, Malia Hedges and Jaclyn Haire.
“There’s a lot of speed and knowledge on the team this year,” coach Haire said. “Practices have been pretty good; we put together the starting lineup Tuesday so they have a chance to work together a little bit. We’re really preparing for Buffalo.”
Last year’s loss to Buffalo came at the end of a rough and tumble season that saw the Lady Panthers finish 4-9-3. That record was not indicative of the talent on that team, however, as Powell played well against a number of strong opponents — including a 5-0 upset over then No. 2-ranked Worland.
Now, as the start of a new season looms, Haire said the team is excited to start against Buffalo, the team that ruined their state tournament hopes.
“We know we can beat them,” Haire said of the Lady Bison. “So we’re confident in that.”
Haire will employ a different coaching strategy this season; instead of setting long-term goals, the team will instead set daily goals, and begin each day intent on achieving them.
“If we put 100 percent effort into our goals individually, then we’ll win as a team; we can’t lose with that idea,” he said. “We should be pretty good this season.”
Saturday’s opener against Buffalo “is not a must-win game for us, as far as the schedule goes,” Haire said. “But my expectation is we get up Saturday morning and try to play the game of soccer with integrity, passion and 100 percent effort. We do that, we have a good chance.”
Spring weather in Wyoming being what it is, the Lady Panthers have only just begun practicing outside this week. With snow in the forecast for the next couple of days across the state, Haire said he hopes the opener will come off as planned; he’s had teams play in inclement weather before.
“Two years ago, we were playing in Pinedale for the first game of the season,” he recalled. “They had piles of snow up on the edges of the field, so the furthest the ball could go out of bounds was about 2 feet. It was just a wall of snow,” he said, recalling that he and assistant coach Stan Hedges coached the game while leaning up against snowbanks.
“We expect the same in Buffalo this weekend,” Haire said.
As for season expectations, Haire said the goal is always to make the state tournament.
“Our schedule is stacked; every game is so important,” he said. “But I believe we have the team to make some noise. We have a solid group of kids.”