Runnin’ Panthers ready to storm the court
By Lauren Jette
After graduating only one senior after last year’s 32-1 season, the Runnin’ Panther basketball team looks to go deeper in the playoffs this season.
Liberty Hill shocked many after hitting a 31-game win streak to claim the District 25-4A championship before falling early in the playoffs, losing to Brazosport 62-56 in the area round.
“We had no idea we would come out of the gate and win our first 32 games in a row. Truthfully, I think it got a little big for us,” said head coach Barry Boren, who is back for his 14th season as head coach.
“The good news is we graduated one kid off that team and they are all coming back.”
The Panthers will have to replace Callen Mikulencak, who was a huge leader for the team, and work around an injured starter.
“The bad news for us is, we’ve had an injury. One of our two-year starters tore his ACL about a week before the season started, so we’ve been trying to get ready to play around him, so thankfully for us, we had a fall league to play in,” Boren said.
“We lost our first three games, but we won our last three, so I think we did a good job of learning to play without him and now he’s going to try to play with the ACL situation, so I think we’re going to get some contribution from him as well. I think we should have a good year,” Boren said.
Expectations are high after last year’s streak was snapped early.
“Certainly, we want to go further in the playoffs. Every team in the state of Texas, at the beginning of the year, say we want to win state. Hey, we’re right there with them, we want to win state, but what we want to do is get progressively better and we want to peak at the right time,” Boren explained.
“I want us to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year and that’s a challenge, because we play a really tough non-district schedule and then maybe our district schedule’s not quite as tough, so it’s hard to stay crisp through all that, so that’s a challenge, but we have really good kids. I feel like we’ve got a good chemistry, I think they like being here, I think they like one another,” he said.
After breezing through the district schedule without dropping a game, the Panthers look to replicate that success, but do have some challenges in their way.
“Us and Burnet is always big, just because of the proximity of the two communities. Taylor has got a state-ranked team, so I know they have really high hopes and they’ve got some good kids coming back,” Boren said.
“Lampasas has gotten a nice move-in, and their coach’s son is on the team. With our district, if they were to beat Liberty Hill, they would react as if it were an NBA championship or something like that. I guess that’s pressure, but it’s good pressure, the kind that you would like to have,” he said.
District teams include Salado, Llano, Burnet, Taylor and Lampasas, and the Panthers open against Salado at home on Jan. 15.
The Panthers will open the season against visiting Killeen Shoemaker on Tuesday, after playing scrimmages against Vista Ridge, Copperas Cove and Austin Anderson.
“We play a good brand of people and it’s competitive,” Boren said. “Our guys are tired of hitting one another, they want to hit somebody new.”
Seniors on the team include Carson Lowe, Conner Lowe, Tucker McMullan, Brady Lochte, Slater Foust, Logan Gillentine, Trey Jenkins and Aedan Welch.
Boren thinks his team will use last season’s unexpectedly abrupt ending as motivation this season.
“I think this: they kind of know what to expect. The fact that it didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, I think it’s kind of something that’s stuck under their saddle, it’s been kind of like a little burr.”
The varsity Panthers will make their home debut at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the high school gym.