Not wanting the season to end
Panthers rally from 2-1 deficit, beat La Plata in five sets
After dropping two of its first three sets against the visiting La Plata High School volleyball team on Wednesday afternoon, the Patuxent volleyball squad had no more margin for error if the Panthers were going to have any chance of unseating the Warriors as Class 2A South Region champions.
While the first three sets had been virtual nail-biters, Patuxent completely reversed the course of the 2A South Section II final match by dominating the early por- tions of both the fourth and fifth sets.
Considering the Panthers had never led by more than four points in any of the first three sets, their 15-4 lead in the fourth and 8-2 advantage to start the deciding set were surprisingly decisive and propelled the hosts to the region final, prevailing in five sets by scores of 23-25, 25-23, 2225, 25-13 and 15-12.
“Really the main difference was playing with more energy,” Patuxent
Patuxent had not faced much in the way of adversity. But at the half on Wednesday, the Panthers were tied at 1 with a Patterson Mill team that had dominated play for much of the first 30 minutes.
The Panthers came out of the half with a renewed focus and scored twice in the second half, first on Mack Dinopoulos’ second goal of the game and later on an insurance marker from Riley Eells to gut out a 3-1 victory.
The win earned Patuxent (15-0 overall) a date with South Carroll of Carroll County in the 1A state championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Washington College in Chestertown.
“I think the biggest point was we can’t let any mistakes we make or nerves affect our play,” Dinopoulos said of the Panthers’ halftime chat. “One of the biggest things we said is, ‘We have to believe we can win.’ Our whole thing is believe. On everything we have it says believe. That’s the main point. We had to believe we could win or else we’re not going to win. ... I think that’s how we went in [to the second half]. We went in confident which is what allowed us to score twice in the second half.”
The Panthers’ group of seniors has enjoyed unprecedented success within the program, winning four regional championships, as well as the program’s first state title, and now has earned a trip to the state final for the third time in four seasons. The experience those players can draw from made for an easy halftime talk.
“Listening to them at halftime, I didn’t even need to be there,” Patuxent head coach Lynn Powell said. “They were talking about every single thing I would have told them. The girls on the bench were giving them advice and different numbers that were open, which is amazing. That’s a whole team effort, on the bench, on the field, everyone. It’s pretty awesome.”
Patuxent (15-0) had opened the scoring on Dinopoulos’ first goal less than three minutes into the game. But following the goal, Patterson Mill (9-8) started to take over, mounting pressure on the Panthers’ goal that they are not accustomed to seeing. The Huskies then knotted the score on a goal by Caroline Michaels with 22 minutes 16 seconds remaining in the half.
Patterson Mill maintained its intensity, but Patuxent’s LaSalle University-bound goalie Chloe South was up to every challenge thereafter, doing her part to keep the score tied at 1.
“At first we went back on our heels a lot, which led to them getting down further on goal,” South said. “As soon as the second half picked up, we were going to the ball, stepping in front of them, getting the ball and it eventually led us to two more goals which led us to the win.”
With the opportunity to play for back-to-back state titles hanging in the balance, Patuxent regrouped at the half.
Dinopoulos finally put the team in front to stay when she banged home a long shot with 21:32 remaining, that coming off the Panthers’ only penalty corner of the game. Then Eells was able to get another across the line with 8:46 to play, capping a period of sustained Patuxent pressure to finally provide the defending champion with some breathing room.
“At halftime we talked about the fact that you can’t hang back,” Powell said. “This is it. You have a half an hour to give to your team and to the school and that sacrifice is enough. They started going to the ball, talking to each other and things started clicking.”
Powell noted the speed Patterson Mill possessed. Fortunately enough, this year’s Panthers were a quick enough unit to hang with the Huskies. And while its opportunities were not necessarily plen- tiful, Patuxent capitalized on what it did create.
“We weren’t in the circle all that much, but when we were in there it was pretty quality,” Powell said. “Our freshmen Abby [Alderman] and Riley controlled quite a bit up top. This is probably the fastest team I’ve ever coached, and that was the fastest team I’ve ever played. I’m glad we had some speed.”
Already responsible for the history the field hockey team has created over the past few years, Dinopoulos and her fellow seniors have one more bit of business to attend to on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “I think it would be amazing to go back-toback. That’s never been done in Patuxent history and I’d love to walk out my senior year doing that.”