The Saratoga Sun -

By Liz Wood 

Panther hoops to tip off season with new offense, conference tournament

Panthers to concentrate on one game at a time


Liz Wood

senior Braxton Schwartzkopf attempts to drive in for a layup as Andrew Oiler defends during the second day of practice, Dec. 2. They are two of four seniors filling out the roster for the 2014-2015 basketball season.

The Saratoga High School boys basketball coach is looking forward to this year. Joe Johnston, a SHS graduate and new head coach for boys basketball, plans to take this season one game at a time.

He has a talented returning lineup to work with and as a volunteer coach last year Johnston became familiar with the team.

"I have never coached before," Johnston said. But he loves the game of basketball.

After volunteering last year, Johnston made the decision to coach basketball when Josh Sandlian accepted a position in Wheatland.

"I wanted to show the kids my perspective and see if we could have some success," Johnston said.

Johnston comes from a long line of basketball coaches – his brothers, Joe and Jake, and his dad, Bob Johnston, have all coached.

The most difficult part of coaching for Johnston is not seeing the students everyday. Johnston teaches sixth grade, so he depends on his wife Amy, who teaches at the high school, to post sign-up sheets and practice announcements.

After three practices, Johnston was already seeing improvement with the boys getting in shape and focusing on defense.

Johnston is also working on a new offense with the boys team. "The students are learning my philosophy and I am learning where they will fit in with what I am seeing throughout the year," Johnston said.

With four seniors this year, the team has experience under their belt as Braxton Schwartzkopf, Andrew Oiler, Riley Sandiland and Seth Harrison fill the leadership roles, replacing five players from last year's senior roster.

The team also has several juniors, most of whom have two years of high school basketball experience including Christian Soles, Cameron Lehr, Danny Brenna, Darian Williams, Rodrigo Escobedo, Aaron Kerbs, Hazer Hinkle, Zane Michelson and Jace Berger. Three sopohmores are returning for play – Matt Lincoln, Donovan Ingleby and Morgan Rempel.

Incoming freshmen this year are Colton Jones, Ben Fairbanks, Cameron Travis, Preston Dew, Alex Sandoval and Torin Hedley.

Sierra Schutte is the team manager.

Last year, the boys finished with a 13-14 overall record and played at regionals.

Johnston said he wants to take this season game by game.

In the opening game Friday afternoon, the Panthers are playing against Lingle/Ft. Laramie. Lingle is a 1A team in the Southeast Conference, but it will count towards the conference record in case of a tie.

Every game is going to be tough. "If the boys don't go in with the confidence that they are going to win, it is going to be a long game," Johnston said. "However if they go in knowing they are going to win, they play hard the whole time, we should have a shot."

Johnston motivates the team with his enthusiasm, love and knowledge for the game. "They know when I am frustrated and they see when I am excited."

At the Burns tournament, Friday and Saturday the Panthers also play against Shoshoni and Wind River.

The fans won't have a chance to see a home conference game until Jan. 17, when the Panthers host Pine Bluffs.

Dec. 19, the Panthers host Hanna/Elk Mountain/Medicine Bow (HEM) ad Jan. 9 they host Little Snake River, both 1A teams.

Johnston said he is hoping to build a program that includes a bigger crowd in the stands. Johnston remembers several years ago when it was hard to find a seat at a basketball game in the gym.


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