High school basketball: Panther girls enjoying big turnaround

WOODSIDE — Kaylee Williams knows all too well what a tough basketball season looks like.

But even when the Polytech High girls’ basketball squad was starting this year 0-6, the Panthers’ junior thought things were going to be different this winter.

“When we lost, we knew that we shouldn’t have lost,” said Williams. “We lost our heads and didn’t play as well as we knew we could. We knew we had potential to win, we just weren’t showing it.”

Finally, though, Polytech figured out how to win a game — and then another, and another after that.

Suddenly, the Panthers find themselves with an overall record of 6-9 after topping Cape Henlopen, 53-41, on Tuesday night.

Kaylee Williams

While that record isn’t great, consider that Polytech is now 6-3 in its last nine games. That comes after going just 4-42 in their previous 48 games.

The players who have been through those difficult times said they always kept believing that things would get better.

“It was tough but you just can’t give up,” said senior guard Tamia Mathias. “You’ve got to play strong and finish out.

“We have a small group that’s capable of a lot. If everybody puts in the work and does their best, we can win games.”

“Everybody like winning,” said Williams, who is from Smyrna. “So when you only win a few games, it’s not the best. But, I don’t know, I feel like we had potential and it’s finally showing now. So it was worth it.”

Mathias, who averages a team-leading 14 points per game, is the only senior playing for the Panthers right now. The only other senior on the roster, Jocelyn Morton-Elzie, is sidelined by an injury.

The rest of the young roster includes three juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.

Tamia Mathias

That youth may help explain Polytech’s growth this season.

The Panthers’ 12-point win over Cape came after they lost to the Vikings by 18 early in the year.

“We got off to a slow start but they’re picking it up,” said coach Dayra Diamond. “They never gave up. Our record didn’t depict the actual heart that we had.”

Of course, success also breeds success. So finally putting up a few victories helped Polytech’s players believe they could win some more.

“If you had a ‘confidence meter’ on them, you’d see it gradually increase,” said Diamond. “Their confidence level definitely got better as the ‘W’s’ came. They definitely played harder. It’s just always fun to win.”

Diamond wouldn’t get any arguments from her players about that, of course. Consider that Polytech has already tripled its victory total from each of the last two seasons.

The Panthers’ win over Cape snapped a six-game losing streak against the Vikings and gave them their first win over the Henlopen Northern Division foe since 2014.

“I love to win,” said Mathias, a Smyrna resident. “I’m a senior, it’s my last go-around. I want to finish out strong with my teammates and try to get ‘W’s.’”

“We’re doing a lot better than I thought we were going to do,” said Williams. “It’s great to see the progress we’ve made.”

It won’t be easy for Polytech to keep winning.

With five games remaining, the Panthers still have to face Henlopen North frontrunners Caesar Rodney and Sussex Central again.

On the other hand, Polytech is two games into a stretch of six straight home games. The Panthers host North rival Dover on Friday at 6:15 p.m.

Polytech hasn’t won nine games in a season since finishing 9-12 in 2014, the last time it also made the DIAA state tournament.

“We say that we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes,” said Diamond. “We set small goals for each game and that helps them to work harder and accomplish them.”

Free throws

Caesar Rodney’s boys’ team (9-3) will put its six-game winning streak on the line when it hosts Cape Henlopen (8-4) on Friday night. The Vikings are 6-1 in the North while the Riders are 5-2. Cape dumped CR, 62-46, on Dec. 9 … Caesar Rodney’s undefeated girls’ team (13-0) goes on the road for five of its last seven regular-season games. That stretch starts with a Henlopen North game at Cape Henlopen on Friday night. … Radio station Delaware 105.9-FM will broadcast the Sussex Tech-Sussex Central boys’ game on Friday night. … Dover’s boys (6-9) play four of their last five games at home. The Senators have played only five home games all season so far.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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