BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — Two games into the season, the Maumee girls basketball team faced one of the hardest stretches of games any team in the area will have to battle this season.
First up was a game against archrival Perrysburg on November 30, followed by a road game against Division I regional semifinalist Northview on December 2.
All the following week brought was a matchup against defending D-II state champion Napoleon on Tuesday and a game at Anthony Wayne.
It’s the type of four-game swing that would challenge even the most seasoned teams, much less one trying to build from the ground up, like the Panthers (0-4 overall, 0-2 NLL).
“It’s the way the (Northern Lakes League) works out,” said Maumee coach Rafael Soler. “We’re focusing on us this season, so I put that on them to keep getting better. That’s got to be the focus during this stretch because after this, we have some games that we’re going to compete in.
“I told our seniors and our leaders that I know they’ll keep us together through this, that we’ll fight to get better every day. This is not something coaches are going to be able to do. The players are going to have to rally around each other, keep encouraging each other.”
The stretch opened with a 68-23 loss to the Yellow Jackets (2-2, 1-2), who opened the game with a 19-2 lead after the first quarter and held Maumee to 11 points after halftime.
Jessica Roper led the Panthers with 13 points, going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Kayla Freeman had four points.
Megan Gibbs had 17 points for Perrysburg, and 6-foot-2 sophomore Wrigley Takats had 10. Roper was tasked with guarding the taller Takats one-on-one, and Soler gave his senior credit for holding her own in the post.
With shooters and athletes all around the court, however, the Panthers couldn’t just focus on one player.
“They beat us down the court; we had a hard time keeping track of where our people were,” Soler said. “They had so many open shots – and they hit them.
“They had better team chemistry right now. They know where everyone else is supposed to be and it showed.”
Heading into the game at Northview, one of the biggest weaknesses for Maumee had been slow starts. In their first three games of the season, the Panthers were outscored 47-15 in the first quarter and 93-44 in the first half.
At least for the first five minutes of the game against the Wildcats, Maumee put together its best start of the season, trailing only 6-4. From there, though, Northview scored five points in a quick 20-second burst and rolled to a 69-17 win.
“It started with the defensive intensity. We were frustrating them at the beginning of the game,” Soler said. “When you start looking at shot charts, they had 25 2-pointers and they were all inside the paint. They started getting offensive rebounds, they started getting easy ways to score. It’s that snowballing effect.
“It was our best start of the season. We’re going to try to figure out what we did there and try to keep building on that.”
Roper once again led the Panthers with seven points, and Lucy Porter added four.
Madi Taylor had 17 points for Northview, with Madi Michaelson (13 points) and Joeli Baumhower (12) also reaching double figures.
“Give credit to Northview, they’re a well-oiled machine,” Soler said. “They know where their teammates will be all the time. That comes with playing the same offense since fifth grade, doing it over and over again. They know each other on the court. We’re just not there yet.”
Soler admitted the focus during these difficult four games isn’t necessarily wins and losses, but instead on growth and improvement. After this run, the Panthers have four games before Christmas in which they could be much more competitive — three straight home games against Northwood, Defiance and Southview and a road game at Evergreen.
“That’s going to be our focus,” Soler said. “It is going to be a focus on us. They’re all saying this is what we want to do. We have goals for what we want to do during these games. It might not even be for a win, it might be how are we going to compete.”
The JV Panthers lost, 49-19, for the first time all season in an NLL matchup against their rivals, the Perrysburg Yellow Jackets. Autumn Miller led Maumee with seven points, and Sky Janes added six.
After going down 24-8 at halftime, Maumee stayed with Perrysburg in the third quarter for a matching 9-9 frame. The Yellow Jackets stepped on the gas, however, and pulled away with a 16-2 fourth quarter.
The Panthers dropped their second straight game against NLL foe Northview, 45-25.
Charley Bischoff had a season-high 12 points to lead Maumee, including two 3-pointers. Sky Janes added five points.
The Panthers trailed 18-4 after one quarter and 23-10 at halftime.