File photo Pahranagat Valley’s Shawn Wadsworth (23) returns for his senior campaign. The Panthers fell to Spring Mountain in last year’s state title game.

File photo
Pahranagat Valley’s Shawn Wadsworth (23) returns for his senior campaign. The Panthers fell to Spring Mountain in last year’s state title game.

Pahranagat Valley surprised a lot of people during the basketball season last year, advancing all the way to the state finals.

It showed the tremendous improvement the team had made from just two years earlier when they finished 8-18 under new coach Mike Strong.

But it wasn’t a surprise to Strong. “I thought we could be competitive, and if you get some breaks along the way, we were as competitive as anybody, with the exception of Spring Mountain, obviously. They were head and shoulders above everybody else.”

This is Strong’s second stint as PVHS coach. Now in his 17th year, he directed the team from 1994-2005, including state championships in 1998 and 2006. The team was state runner-up to McDermitt in 2002. He coached at Moapa High in 2006-2008, then returned to Pahranagat Valley and became school principal in 2009.

This season, the Panthers have 10 players from the squad that made it to the state finals last year, including four starters, and that should make the team among the favorites for the state championship this year.

Top players are expected to include F Jacob Roemer (Sr.), F Shawn Wadsworth (Sr.), F Geoffrey Mortensen (Sr.), G Tabor Maxwell (Jr.), G Christian Higbee (Jr.), G Cody Williams (Jr.), G Tyson Jorgensen (Jr.), F Daved Wilson (Jr.), G Ike Taylor (Jr.), F Cullen Highbe (So.).

“We took a big step last year (17-8, 8-2, third, Division IV Southern),” said Strong. “Our kids aren’t babies anymore, they have grown up, the ones who were freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors. They were put in some pretty tough situations back then, were young and had to play a lot of varsity minutes which were tough that first year. We hope we have grown up and matured some.”

During the summer, the team played some games in Utah, and Strong said, “while we weren’t great, you could see we were still improving, showing glimpses what maybe we can be.”

A veteran team with four seniors, six juniors, and one sophomore will be a deep team. “Those kids have been on the floor a lot,” Strong said, “and we have an opportunity to have a deep bench. A couple of other sophomores showed real promise during the summer and we might use them some as well.”

The height the Panthers have this year should also be a strong factor with a back line of 6-5 Mortensen, 6-4 Roemer, 6-4 Wilson and 6-8 Highbe.

Strong said “It’s going to come down quite a bit to getting the guards to work with the posts and the posts with the guards.”

Pahranagat opens the non-league season hosting Moapa Valley Dec. 8 at 7:30.

They follow with the Beaver Dam Invitational Dec. 11-12 and face their in-county rival Lincoln County in Panaca Dec. 15.

After Christmas, Strong said the team will participate in the Mountain View Tournament in Las Vegas, Dec. 26-30, a 16-team affair that draws some of the better small schools in the area, and some from California. “We start with Bonanza at Noon Dec. 26, and after that, I don’t know,” he said.

As to the Division IV Southern League, Strong said he thinks the top four will remain the same. Word of Life returns nearly everyone, Adelson, with their 11 juniors, will be strong, Round Mountain could be a dark horse, and with Spring Mountain, the questions are what kind of athletes they have, and will they have the same kind of shooters as last year?

“It’s no easy task, but we hope to be in that mix. It’s going to be a really good league,” he said.