BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — As the Maumee girls basketball team embarks on the second half of the Northern Lakes League schedule, coach Rafael Soler wants to see improvement from his team.
The second-year coach admitted it might not show up in wins and losses, but it certainly can show up on the scoreboard with closer contests.
In their rematch with rival Perrysburg, the Panthers once again demonstrated they’re fulfilling their coach’s wishes and are a team on the upswing.
After suffering through a 45-point loss in November, Maumee kept up with the Yellow Jackets, falling 49-35.
“They keep getting more and more confident as we keep going through the season,” Soler said. “We could have made it even more of a game if we played a better first half.”
After a strong first quarter, the Panthers fell behind with a subpar second (13-3) to trail 30-16 at the half, giving impressions of another blowout loss to the Jackets.
The second half, though, was a much stronger performance from Maumee, running neck and neck with Perrysburg. The Panthers actually outscored the Jackets, 15-10, in the closing quarter.
“We started to get into more of our offense in the second half and execute,” Soler said. “Our best defense was going to be our offense, taking care of the ball and limiting turnovers. They started really taking that to heart in the second half.”
Turnovers and rebounding plagued the Panthers throughout the game, particularly since Perrysburg featured 6-foot-2 post player Wrigley Takats.
While Soler believed his squad did a good job of boxing out, he was worried about its inability to secure the basketball.
“We were tipping balls, one-handed, balls were bouncing off of us,” Soler said. “That’s something we’re going to look at. Not only in rebounding, but catching the ball was difficult for us at times.
“Perrysburg is a physical team, they were pushing us around under the basket, but at least the fundamentals of boxing out were there.”
Over the last few years in most athletic events, the Jackets seem to enter these rivalry games with an automatic psychological advantage over the Panthers.
The pressure mounts on Maumee coaches and athletes to perform well and beat their rivals across the river, and when the losses begin to pile up, it weighs even heavier.
In last week’s game, though, there was none of that fear or trepidation from the Panthers. They appeared ready to play from the tip and stood toe-to-toe with the Jackets in three of the four quarters.
“They wanted this challenge,” Soler said. “On the bus ride over, they were loose. They wanted this opportunity for a lot of these seniors to play Perrysburg for the last time.
“It was one of those things of not fearing but a respect thing of, ‘I want to go play Perrysburg tonight.’ They didn’t back down.”
It also speaks to the uphill battle of gaining respect the Maumee girls basketball team faces. As the team continues to improve, Soler said he’s starting to see signs of other programs and coaches taking his team seriously.
“These seniors came out and said, ‘We want to leave the program better than where we started,’” Soler said. “I truly believe they’re doing that. They have a sense of pride in the program.
“We’re proving to people that we’re not just going to roll over, maybe like we were doing even at the beginning of the season. We are fighting now. They’re trying to be in every game.”