BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — The last few years have been rough for the Maumee girls basketball team, but if the fall seasons for the Panthers have taught us anything, it’s that fortunes can quickly change.
For the first time in more than five years, the Maumee girls opened their season with a win, a 43-34 victory over visiting Elmwood last week.
It might only be one game and one win, but the impact on a program that has won just seven games over the last four seasons is undeniable.
“It gives everyone that confidence that we’re going in the right direction,” said Panthers coach Rafael Soler. “I’m just so happy for the girls. You can see on their faces how much this meant to them.
“It gets the ball rolling on everything. They already want to work as hard as they can, but if you get some of those rewards that you play the game for, it motivates you even more. It validates the work we’ve put in.
“I’m hoping this is a starting point for us.”
The Panthers started slowly and trailed 20-16 at halftime, but they kicked things up a few notches in the second half. They outscored the Royals 11-2 in the fourth quarter.
Six different players scored for Maumee, led by Lucy Porter’s 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Taylor Smith added seven points and three assists, Skyler Janes had six points, four rebounds and three assists and Megyn Calopietro added five points, five boards and three steals.
“In my short coaching career, I can’t think of a better team win,” Soler said. “We had so many unknowns coming into this season and we just gutted that out, pulled it out. We just took that. It feels really good.”
Porter hit four 3-pointers and went 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. She appeared to thrive in her new role as a forward.
“(With) the number of shots she put up this summer, she wants this,” Soler said. “Once you have done it so much, the muscle memory kicks in. She is going to be a shooter this year; she has put in the work.
“She’s put in too much work, she’s too talented to have an off night the whole game. It was getting into it, feeling it out at the beginning of the season. Once she got a rhythm, she started letting it go.”
Two players never came off the court for Maumee, playing the entire 32 minutes – Smith and junior post Anna Zheng.
When asked about Zheng after the game, Soler had to take a few pauses to compose himself.
“We had no idea what Anna Zheng was going to be before this game started, and for her to not come off the floor and play as well as she did … it was beautiful, it was fun to watch,” Soler said. “It sparked everybody else.
“Coach (Nick) Porter was asking her, ‘Anna, are you good?’ We could tell she was tired, but she did not want to come out of this game.
“Anna is the nicest person you will ever meet, but to see some of that dog come out in her was so cool.”
Soler admitted the Panthers still have a lot of work to do, but for one night at least, they proved that work is pushing the program in the right direction.