SHERIDAN — The Arvada-Clearmont boys and girls basketball programs currently sport opposite resumes. The girls team enjoys a spot atop the conference with an unblemished 3-0 record, while the boys team has encountered its fair share of bumps en route to an 0-3 conference start.
But this weekend brings a clean slate, of sorts, as both clubs welcome Kaycee Saturday when pride, more so than body of work, comes to the forefront in a couple of rivalry games.
AC girls basketball head coach Sarah Walker likes the progress her team has made this season but can’t help but think what could have been if the ball had bounced the Lady Panthers’ way a couple more times. AC’s four losses have come by a combined 17 points and three were decided by five points or fewer.
“We have four losses that could have all been wins,” Walker said. “I’m super confident with where we are at as we install a little bit more each week. We set a little bit higher expectations, and the girls really seem to be stepping up to the plate with that. We are asking them to go outside their comfort zone a little.”
The higher expectations have blossomed from a disappointing state tournament run last season. While the Lady Panthers deservedly celebrated the trip to Casper, not logging a win somewhat deflated the accomplishment.
That anticlimactic end to the 2016-17 season, coupled with plenty of returning experience and a hot start, have given Walker the opportunity to plan ahead. The Lady Panthers, while not overlooking anyone within their conference or region, eye a more joyful state tournament trip come March.
“The West is super dominant, and they’re doing some things the East has not figured out yet,” Walker said. “So we’re implementing some things now that the East isn’t used to. We are pushing the pace. We’re putting on the press early, right out the gates. We are going full force in your face.”
That has lent itself to a few lopsided wins recently as the Lady Panthers have outscored their conference foes by a combined 64 points. One of those victories occurred Jan. 26 on the road at Kaycee where AC walked away with a 39-26 win. The Lady Panthers would like to duplicate that result come Saturday when they play host to their rivals from the south at 1 p.m.
The boys game between Arvada-Clearmont and Kaycee is slated for 2:30 p.m., and the Panthers will be thirsting for revenge. The Buckaroos had their way with AC down in Kaycee Jan. 26, winning by a final score of 68-35.
The Panthers have taken their fair share of lumps thus far but recently picked up a win over Ten Sleep where AC head coach Ross Walker saw his team embody a new philosophy he installed midseason.
“Our goal now is all about controlling our effort, and that kind of goes back to our blue-collar roots,” Walker said. “We have a lot of ranch kids and small-town kids, and a lot of their families had to scrap and fight for every little thing that they have. So we are trying to go back to that, and I think our kids really bought into that.”
That newfound identity on the basketball court has produced wins in three of the last eight games after beginning the season with seven straight losses.
The Ten Sleep game Jan. 27 represented tangible growth for AC. The Panthers opened the season with an 11-point loss to the Pioneers, and a little over a month later, AC flipped the script and toppled Ten Sleep by a 10-point margin.
Rivalry games have a funny way of leveling the playing field. The heightened emotion and adrenaline surrounding the game can mask the more-deficient team while getting the best of the more-talented team.
The Arvada-Clearmont boys and girls basketball teams have experienced different results this season — and in their first matchups with Kaycee — but come Saturday, all that will be forgotten as two old rivals go head-to-head.