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Richard Powell returned to his family in Saratoga from a typical work trip to Cody at the beginning of the summer. He floated the idea of the group — he, his wife and four daughters — permanently moving to Cody.

Paige, the second-oldest of the daughters, was open to the idea albeit with a few reservations. She wasn’t sure how serious her father was about it and she’d already built a fellowship of friends at Encampment, where she’d become the star athletic attraction. Through weeks of discussions, the family elected to make the move. Paige floated out the idea of staying back briefly before jumping on board.

The Powells arrived in Cody almost two weeks before the 2018 volleyball season got underway. Paige was a two-time all-state volleyball player at Encampment and there was never a doubt she’d join the Fillies. So she jumped in and went to work.

“It was fast,” she said, “but it’s been a great move.”

***

Cody made the state volleyball tournament despite making the move from Class 3A to 4A. Now, weeks into the basketball season, Powell leads a group of new friends through a physical schedule and the college burden off her mind, having recently signed to play basketball at the University of Wyoming.

Powell verbally committed to the Cowgirls in June, almost coinciding with the initial thoughts of moving to Cody. She had shed interest from Utah State and Idaho in favor of playing at the same school where her parents attended. The standout averaged 12.7 points, 13.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.0 blocks per game last season at Encampment. It was an improvement on the numbers she accrued as a starting sophomore, when she and older sister McKenzie helped lead the Tigers to the 1A state championship, the program’s first in 12 years.

It was clear, among a sea of Class 1A peers, that Paige was something special. And, just over 14 months after that championship game, she had proof of how special that was in a Division I scholarship.

“Paige is a multi-sport athlete as well as a multi-sport champion,” UW head coach Joe Legerski said in a recent statement. “Paige’s size and athleticism will provide the Wyoming program a tremendous player on both ends of the court.”

She officially signed her letter of intent just over a week before playing her first basketball game at Cody. Her arrival could not have come at a better time for the Fillies’ basketball program.

***

In the last two years under head coach Tim Vannoy the Fillies finished 12-15. Both years they made the playoffs, but failed to advance out of the first round. Add in the pressures of now moving up to Class 4A, where the game is more physical, and the road ahead looked treacherous. Then came the gift of a transfer, igniting hope to not only compete, but to win.

“Ask the Lakers fans how they feel about LeBron coming to L.A.,” Vannoy said recently. “You didn’t think Christmas came early to Cody when she moved?”

Admittedly, Powell’s immersion into the Cody roster and Vannoy’s up-tempo system didn’t come easy. At Encampment she spent years building a chemistry with her teammates. She’d rarely played with some of her new teammates, if ever.

“It took a while at practice,” Powell said. “I was still reading, still learning what their strengths are, what they like to do.

“But everybody here’s super nice and we’re all playing for each other — that makes it really easy to have that team chemistry.”

The opening weeks didn’t show a polished Cody team but instead a work in progress. Despite moments of regression, some brought on by early-season court rust, the promising points of the Fillies brought something to behold. Powell’s excitement about the up-tempo style hasn’t wavered since its instillation.

Through the first three games (so not including the recent win over Powell High School) Powell averaged 14.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.3 steals and 4.0 blocks per game.

Her influence goes far beyond her stat line, as Vannoy has already witnessed. For a team that wants to push the pace and run baseline to baseline, a player with Powell’s strengths is invaluable.

“When you have someone that could pull that board, at her size, and then lead that break — I’m old school, so it’s like Magic Johnson,” Vannoy said. “It’s that whole deal of coast-to-coast. And boy can you up-tempo because of that.”

The senior said during the season-opening Casper Invitational that she’s focused merely on improvement, both individually and as a team. She’d like to hone in on defense more in order to turn defensive plays into offensive points.

More than anything, she’s having fun. Pressure of a college decision or performance expectations don’t apply to her this year. She’s already signed her letter of intent and she’s at a completely new environment with a new set of teammates on a team that has been thrown into the big pond. She plays with no added weight on her shoulders this season.

Powell has been announced as part of the starting line-up every game so far, she smiles and she enjoys that moment. Sure, winning that particular game is at the forefront of her mind because that’s her competitive nature, but she’s also learned to savor the moments on a basketball court. And she’s thankful her last ones in high school are with the group of former strangers that she now sees at practice everyday.

“It’s been good just to finally get out and play again,” she said. “I love this group of girls that I’m playing with and it feels good to be back.”

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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