PAOLA — They are not the glamour guys who make the headlines. However, they are the heart and soul of a football team and can dictate the outcome of the game.
They do their work in the trenches, battling for every inch, foot and yard at the line of scrimmage.
Even without pads on the first few days of practice, it was quite obvious the Paola Panther line is going to move people off the ball.
Paola opened practice for football, volleyball, cross country, soccer and girls tennis with the rest of the state Monday, Aug. 19.
The Panthers return 10 linemen, including five seniors. Heading the list are senior bookends Mason “Bull” Talcott and Javier Castillo. Talcott is a presence at 5-8, 245 pounds. He has been impressive in practice. Castillo was a first-team Tri-County Spotlight selection at defensive line.
Seniors Mikey Stribling and Clayton Essex are also back. Stribling was a first-team selection at offensive line. Essex was a first-team selection at defensive line.
Few have turned eyes at practice the way junior Carter Stanchfield has. He is quick and powerful. Stanchfield’s biggest weapon may be his hands, where he delivers an explosive push that sends opponents backward.
Other linemen ready to make an impact are: senior Trysten Williamson and juniors Jake Karr, Allen Peuser, Dylan Miller and Daquan Rogers.
Paola junior Garrett Williams is working out at quarterback. He has quick feet, a strong arm and a quick release.
Williams will have a few weapons at his disposal offensively, including senior running backs Connor Hasz and Evan Phillips. Junior fullback Fletcher Aude, 5-9, 190, can be a game-changer in the backfield.
Senior wideout Lamont Hill has good hands, offers a big target at 6-0, and has sprinter speed. Paola also sports a couple of young wideouts in juniors Bo Robison and Brock Pitzer.
Defensively, the Paola Panthers return first-team Spotlight linebacker Evan Peuser. He showed a nose for the football as a junior a year ago. Hasz and Williams were second-team Spotlight defensive backs.
Senior hitter McKenzie Gagnebin has emerged as a vocal, senior leader for the Lady Panther volleyball team.
Gagnebin led team drills for the varsity during the first week of practices. Gagnebin, 5-6, is a hitter who can lower the boom up front.
Other seniors back are hitter Alisha Blanc and setter Sophie Jones.
Paola also returns junior hitters Morgan Clark and Abby Richmond and libero Rylan Armbruster. Clark, Richmond and Armbruster saw varsity action a year ago.
The Lady Panthers return Darian Hudgeons who was runner-up in the Frontier League meet with a time of 19:54. Her time of 19:42 set the pace as Hudgeons won the Louisburg Invitational.
Hudgeons placed eight in the regional meet, qualifying for the state meet. Her season best time of 19:18 was tops on the Tri-County Spotlight cross country leaderboard.
Mariana Johnson was a first-team Spotlight runner. Chloe Jones and Lily Hermes were second-team runners. Paola also returns Tristin Haddock and Ashton Bishop, who ran their way onto honorable mention a year ago.
Aaron Maxwell is back to lead Paola boys. Maxwell, a state qualifier, ran a season-best time of 17:31 to lead the Spotlight cross country leaderboard. He was 12th in the Ottawa regional.
The Paola soccer team made history with its 10th win of the season, defeating Riverton, 10-0, in the first round of the state soccer playoffs.
The 10th victory broke the program’s single season record for wins in the season. Senior forward Ryan Wokutch scored six goals in the game, giving him 30 on the season.
Senior keeper Austin Weaver, who posted the shutout, is back in net for the Panthers this season.
Paola also returns seniors Justice Reed, Brandon Flynn, Jon Villalobos and Quinton Widenbach.
Other letter-winners back are: juniors Gavin Clementson, Ian Heid, Jordan Sollis, Ben Timpe and sophomore Dom McCoy.
Paola is ready and eager to build on its 10-win season after investing a lot of time and sweat into summer conditioning, Panther coach Corey Troast said.
“We had really good participation this summer with conditioning and workouts,” Troast aid. “We had a lot of dedicated soccer players who were at almost every training session.”
Paola was knocking on the door of its first regional championship, falling to Heritage Christian by a final of 2-1.
“As a group, I know we continue to strive for postseason success,” Troast said. “We have a great team last year that achieved a lot of first for the program.”
For the first time in the history of Paola High School, the Lady Panthers will field a tennis team this fall.
Coaching the historic first team is Kimberly Prockish.
The team held its first practice Monday, Aug. 19. The Lady Panthers were greeted by two of the hottest days of the summer with temperatures topping 100 degrees Aug. 19 and 94 degrees on Aug. 20 with heat advisories issued for both days.
Paola practices in the multipurpose room of the high school on the first two days and were on the courts the rest of the week.
Members of the first girls tennis team in Paola history are: seniors Jada Bryant, Michayla Canfield, Miranda Carrete, Macaela Garrett, Karlie McMullin and Taylor Rosner, juniors Kynleah Bancroft, Olivia Meredith and Kenna Palmer, sophomores Alyssa Kelley and Gracie Waggerman and freshman Rachel Reimer.