The Panthers are gearing up for a big week on the basketball court, with back-to-back conference games against Big 5 frontrunners Eureka and Del Norte.
It’s already been a breakthrough season of sorts for the McKinleyville girls, who are off to a 1-0 start in the Big 5, having snapped a 17-game conference losing streak.
But if the Panthers want to take the next step and contend for a league crown, the next week will be pivotal.
“It’s going to be a big week for us,” McKinleyville head coach Tony McClure said after Saturday’s 51-37 non-league road loss against Montgomery. “After today’s game, the girls are excited for it, and I feel like they’re ready for the challenge.”
Including Saturday’s game, the Panthers have dropped four straight and are now 10-7, but all four losses were against quality teams, including a pair of Division-I programs and a 13-2 Montgomery team.
They also fell to Mt. Eden on Friday.
And the coach feels that experience will help prepare his players for the challenging week ahead.
“Overall, we were happy with how we played today,” McClure said of the Saturday’s game. “And (Montgomery) are a good team.”
The Panthers started the slower of the two teams, and found themselves in an early 9-2 hole, before going on an 11-3 run to lead at the end of the opening quarter.
In the second period, however, the Vikings pulled away and led 26-18 at the interval after a buzzer beater.
“We played them tough,” McClure said. “We had it within six in the second half, and I thought our energy was really good. Our defense gave them trouble. We were more physical than they were, which frustrated them.”
Three straight late turnovers proved costly, however, as the Panthers were unable to close the gap.
Cameron Heenan led the way on offense with 12 points, including going 6-of-9 from the free-throw line.
“She kept us in it,” McClure said of the sophomore standout.
The ever-reliable Grace Rosebrook added eight points in the loss, including a big 3-pointer late in the game, while Hope Kibby, who has developed into a consistent threat, and Rayn Tripp each finished with six points.
Every game, it seems there is a different leading scorer for the Panthers, which shows the team’s depth and balance.
“I think that’s partly because of our offense, and partly we have a lot of girls who can score,” McClure said.
The Panthers host league leaders Eureka (2-0 in the Big 5) on Wednesday night.