PERRYVILLE – Five weeks into the season, the Perryville Panthers are still searching for their first win.
But, despite a season full of close losses, they haven’t once let their record define them.
The scrappy, never-say-die Panthers (0-11) have played much better than their record implies, as illustrated by last Thursday’s match against the Fallston Cougars (8-4), who earned a sweeping 3-0 victory over a Perryville team that refused to lie down and give up.
“This team has a lot of fight,” said Panthers senior Riley Jackson following her team’s loss to the Cougars.
“We always try to win, there’s never a time when we feel like we’re out of it. And even when we are down, we always fight our way back. … There’s a lot of resilience in this team.”
Spend any time watching them and you’ll realize, the Panthers aren’t your typical winless squad.
This season, they’ve lost just four games by a 3-0 score, with all four coming against Patterson Mill (9-3) and Fallston – who they also lost to on the road on Sept. 16 – two of the top teams in Harford County.
They’ve had highlights like the narrow 3-2 loss to Rising Sun, which saw the Panthers storm back from down 2-0 to force a back-and-forth fifth set, along with their match against the near-perfect Bel Air Bobcats (9-1), whom they still managed to win a set against despite the Bobcats’ status as one of the most dominant teams in the region.
And, despite the seemingly lopsided 3-0 score from last Thursday, the Panthers showed their teeth again as the Cougars had to fight for each and every point.
Fallston’s best set came at the start, when it hopped out to an early 9-3 advantage in the opening set.
Throughout the set – and the evening – Perryville struggled to contain Fallston’s outside hitters, namely senior Ellery Thompson and junior Kyra Douglass, who had no shortage of powerful kills in the Cougars’ win.
“(Thompson) is a very consistent player and consistency means a lot,” said Layna Douglass, the Cougars’ head coach, after the victory. “She’s been playing a long time. She’s played club for five or six years, so she has the experience being on the court. … She’s just one of our rock players.”
While the Panthers aimed to come back from the early deficit in the first set, the Cougars made it nearly impossible, rattling off strong hit after strong hit to eventually take the set, 25-15.
However, as has been the trend all season, Perryville refused to go down without a fight.
In the second set, the Cougars were able to take control of a similar 13-7 lead on a kill by Kyra Douglass, but the Panthers went on a small run – capped off by a block at the net by Perryville junior Ryleigh Racine, who had a stand-out performance of her own – to cut their deficit to four points, 14-10.
The Cougars managed to pull away slightly from there, but a pair of strong plays by Jackson – including a kill that narrowly fell into the back-right corner of the floor – kept the Panthers in it.
Though for just about the rest of the set, the two squads traded serves back-and-forth until the Cougars eventually won, 25-19, a slight improvement from the first set on the Panthers’ part.
Nursing a 2-0 lead, Fallston was just one set away from clinching the sweep.
But Perryville had other plans.
The Panthers managed to keep it close with the Cougars in a set that featured three lead changes and four ties, including the set being knotted at 9-9 after a service error on Fallston.
Despite Perryville’s best efforts, however, Fallston was eventually able to pull away late in the set, leading by as many as seven points, 20-13, as attack errors plagued the Panthers down the stretch.
The Cougars went on to win the third set, 25-18, to seal the 3-0 match win.
Even though Fallston pulled off the sweep, Layna Douglass felt the need to tip her cap to Perryville for making the Cougars work for it.
“Perryville, I think they’ve been struggling all year,” she said, “but they have a lot of potential and we didn’t want to come out here and take anything for granted.”
While the Panthers haven’t yet found the win column, Jackson said she’s proud of her team for having improved as the year’s gone on.
“It’s kind of hard to label just one person with ‘Most Improved’ because I just feel like there’s been so much improvement in so many ways,” Jackson said. “The middles have gotten so much stronger at blocking, the back row has gotten so much better at digging and the hitters are keeping their hits in and hitting spots. … It’s just been an all-around improvement from everybody.”
Perryville continues its search for its first win this week against the Bohemia Manor Eagles (8-4), while Fallston looks to earn its second-straight win versus the North Harford Hawks (3-8).