A deep roster filled with a promising mix of raw talent and experienced returners may just be what the Powell High School track and field teams need to do some damage at state this season.
A total of 112 athletes have joined this year’s team — the second season in a row that PHS head coach Scott Smith has had a roster in the triple digits. Heading into his 27th season at the helm, Smith said those numbers will translate into some much-needed depth in each event.
“So far, so good,” he said Tuesday. “The kids have been working really hard, even with the crummy weather last week.”
“We have quite a few kids back from last year, and they seem to be picking up pretty much right where they left off — and we have a lot of good young kids that are really going to help us out this year,” Smith said. “So far, I think we look really good.”
There will be some big shoes to fill with the loss of athletes like JuliaKay O’Neill, Maddy Hanks, AJ Lewis and Kacey Creed to graduation, but with the numbers that turned out this season, Smith is confident that a lack of depth won’t be an issue. Powell should also benefit from 3A track powerhouses Star Valley and Cody both jumping up to 4A this season. Big Piney and Lovell will replace them in 3A.
“It’s really nice to have that depth, and this year it’s going to be especially nice with the change in classification,” Smith explained. “Last year we just didn’t have quite what it took to compete against loaded teams like Star Valley and Cody. This year, you take them out of the mix, and that depth we have will really show a lot.”
The PHS track and field teams open the season this weekend at the Cody Invitational. If the warmer temps hold, Smith said it will be a good weekend for competition.
“It will be a good place to see where we’re at,” he said. “Of course, we won’t be at full strength; we’ll have a few kids that won’t have enough practices or have other commitments.”
Still, Smith expects to take between 95 and 100 athletes to Cody on Saturday.
“We’ll be pretty strong,” he said, adding, “It’s going to be a good meet — Sheridan usually comes over, and Cody always brings good competition. Riverton usually comes up, so does Worland. Just about every [Big Horn] Basin school will be there. It’s kind of a nice start to the season.”
On the boys’ side, the Panthers return six state placers from last season — including a pair of field athletes who recently had strong performances at the 2019 State Indoor Track meet in Gillette. Competing as members of the Lovell indoor track team earlier this month, Powell’s Colby Warner finished second in the high jump, while Dylan Preator was sixth in the triple jump.
Warner will look to improve on his third-place finish at state last season in Casper; Preator was fifth at Casper in the triple jump.
“Both of those guys [Warner and Preator] placed well for us last year, and we’re expecting good things from them,” Smith said.
Other state placers from last season include Brody Karhu, who made four trips to the podium (seventh in the pole vault and 200 meters, fifth in the 400 meters and fourth as part of the 1600 meter relay team).
“Brody’s still coming back off that pneumonia he had at state wrestling, but he’s finally looking a little bit healthier,” Smith said.
Senior Kaelan Groves placed in two events in 2018, finishing seventh in the 100 meters and eighth in pole vault.
Thrower Ryan Good made the podium in both shot put (fourth) and discus (seventh), while Dalton Woodward was seventh in the triple jump. Jay Cox was fifth in the 800 meters, while fellow runner Alan Merritt was eighth in the 3200 meters.
“We have a lot of good looking distance runners this year, and those two [Cox and Merritt] and Jayden Yates were the ones who placed highest for us last year,” Smith said.
Among those returning for the Lady Panthers is junior Sabrina Shoopman, who earned All-State honors last year with a second place-finish in the 300 meter hurdles; she also medaled with the 4x100 and 1600 meter relay teams.
“Sabrina [Shoopman] is looking really good to begin the season,” Smith said.
Senior Caitlyn Miner made three trips to the podium last season, finishing eighth in the 100 meter dash, fifth in the 100 meter hurdles and eighth as part of the 4x100 meter relay team. Teammate Emma Karhu also medaled in a pair of events, finishing in a tie for sixth in the pole vault and seventh in the 200 meters.
In field events, the Lady Panthers return a pair of triple jump medal winners in Jaz Haney (fourth place) and Elsie Spomer (seventh place). Senior Rachel Bonander was seventh in the discus last year at Casper.
“We have a really good nucleus of kids there, plus some other kids that did well at regionals,” Smith said of his returners. “It’s a really exciting group of athletes we have back.”