Lady Panthers win divisional title, statebound for first time since 1983
The Park City Lady Panthers have been on fire this season.
Closing out the regular season with a 14-1 conference record, the squad began post-season play by claiming the 6B district championship. Last weekend, the Panthers followed that up with the Southern C divisional championship.
Now, for the first time in 32 years, the Lady Panthers are state-bound.
“I love this game and playing in those championship atmosphere is so exciting and emotional,” said Panther Coach Jason Federico. “We are balanced on offense and defense, hard to defend and hard to figure out.”
The Southern C divisional title was won last Saturday in a 39-42 battle against the Wibaux Longhorns.
Three-point shooting provided a substantial kick for the Panthers, with Federico noting sophomore McKinzie Verke’s trio of treys.
Senior Morgan Popp and sophomore Tehya Ray led in scoring with 11 each, Verke had nine and junior Cara Grewell added eights. Popp was also 5-for-8 at the line in the fourth quarter.
The semifinal was an intense game against the Broadus Hawks that fell to the Panthers 65-56.
“The score was tied 11 times and the lead changed 11 times during the game,” said Jason Federico.
Five Park City players hit double-digit scoring.
“Morgan (Popp) had 13 points and nine boards. She was perfect in the fourth and had two huge 3’s as well as being 5-6 from the line,” said Federico.
Grewell had 15 points and seven rebounds, Verke had 11 points, sophomore Shelby Branstetter had 12 points and junior Hailee Gregerson had 10 points.
“This is girls divisional basketball at it’s finest this is why we get so excited,” said Federico.
Park City opened divisional tournament play against the No. 1 seed from 4C the Garfield County Mustangs, which ended 54-58.
Knowing injuries had hampered the Mustangs at the district tournament, Federico said he knew the Panthers would have to execute to walk away with a win.
“So basically we knew to accomplish our goals we needed to be perfect,” said Federico.
So team orders were simple -- shoot the ball and rebound. And that’s what he got.
The Lady Panthers were 9 of 16 on 3-pointers from Verke, Gergerson, Popp and Kluth. In the second quarter Jordan stretched its led to seven, which was answered in the third quarter with a Panther 12-2 scoring run. By the end of the third, the Panthers were up by 18, but two treys by the Mustang and some ball control errors in the fourth quarter closed that lead back to four points.
Kim Popp has watched her youngest daughter’s basketball career at Park City with a unique perspective.
Morgan Popp is a center on the Lady Panther squad, which last weekend punched its ticket to the state tournament for the first time in 32 years.
The last time the Panthers played at state was when Kim Popp was a player in 1983.
Like her daughter, Kim Popp was a center, and still remembers much of that season, particularly the post-season.
Her squad finished second to Absarokee at Districts, but avenged that loss at Divisionals, beating a strong Absarokee team to advance to state. Once at the state tournament at the Rocky Mountain College, it was time to put everything on the line.
And they did, finishing second to Opheim in the championship game.
As for her daughter Morgan, Kim Popp hopes she can relish the accomplishment of having made it that far.
“I hope she can experience what I did,” said Kim Popp this week. “You don’t get to experience this very often. Not many teams make it this far.”
She remembers their coach telling them how much they had already proved by punching their ticket to state. And she thinks the Lady Panthers have the potential to do very well.
“Coach Frederico has a good program going,” said Kim Popp.