PRAIRIE CITY - The by words this year among the Prairie City High School boys basketball players is "State or Bust," and with seven players returning from last year's team, the Panthers have the talent to achieve that goal.
Last year, Prairie City didn't make the district playoffs, finishing with a 4-6 record in the Old Oregon League and 8-11 overall, but with a number of key players returning, the Panthers are anticipating a big turnaround in the 2004/05 season as new members of the TriCo League.
There are some strong teams in the league and the Panthers will have to play good basketball every time they take the floor, said Denis Fast, in his second year as head coach.
"We really intend not to take anyone lightly," he said. "Dayville/Mounment has a lot of returning players and they have some talented players. Spray will have a fast team that will be a really good shooting team and Crane will be solid. Mitchell has some real good athletes and it's not going to be an easy league. It's going to be a bit of a struggle, but I'd like to think we will be the team to beat this year."
Returning players this year include senior Evan Fast, the coach's son and a second-team Old Oregon League all-star selection last year, and Gary Moulton, who was an honorable mention all-star.
Moulton is one of the injured players on the Panthers' roster, along with senior Jason Jackson.
"Gary has a knee injury and he hasn't received clearance to play from his specialist yet, and we hope to get Jason (who was injured during the football season) back in a couple of weeks," coach Fast said. "Of my top 12 from last year, I only have five returning. We're not as deep as I foresaw even a month ago and our problem is going to be early on. We played football until last week; so we've only had a few practices, and we begin league play Dec. 10."
Jackson anticipated being able to play in about two weeks.
"Right now I'm just trying to stay in shape," he said.
The fourth returning senior is A.J. Monahan, who has four years of varsity experience.
"We have some good players and this year my personal goal is to step up and be a leader," Monahan said.
Returning juniors on the roster include Greg Waggoner, Yazzie Voigt and Brandon Lovell, who will be joined by juniors Jay Adams and Brandon Crisler, who are in their first year of varsity competition.
"One good thing about this year's team is I have a number of talented sophomore players including Brady Sullens, Levi Voigt, Cody Sederlin and Brenton Groves," Fast said. "Those guys are going to have to step up and play some minutes. Brenton is a lefty with a good shot and I expect Levi, Brady and Cody are all going to see a lot of playing time, especially early in the season until we can get our injuries healed up."
Prairie City opened the season on Tuesday at Union and will host the annual Prairie City Tip-Off Tournament on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3-4.
"I'm really looking forward to this season. We have the best attitude of any bunch of boys I've ever coached," Fast said. "This is a nice, fun bunch of boys to coach. They are a smiling, hard-working bunch of guys with no bad attitudes. That makes coaching a lot of fun."