Paul VI has tasted enough defeat in big stages the past two years. The Panthers lost in the quarterfinals of their conference and state tournament in 2016. Last year, they fell in the semifinals in both stages again, with the loss in the state tournament coming in deuce of the fifth set after they were up 2-0.

“It was a bitter end. They know what that feeling’s like and they don’t want that feeling again,” Coach Samuel Farrar said. “They understand how small the difference there is between winning and losing.”

So, true to the words etched in the school gymnasium, “Do ordinary things extraordinarily well,” the Panthers went back to work this season. Farrar said his returning players were visibly better during tryouts. Last year, players couldn’t finish out games. This season, they are winning critical points.

Against St. John’s earlier this year, the Panthers were down 20-18 in the fourth set. Farrar thought his team would lose the set and go to the fifth set. Instead it clawed back to win seven straight points and win the match, 3-1.

“I think last year’s team, we would have gone five. We might have won the fifth, might have not,” Farrar said. “But this year’s bunch is saying, ‘No, we’re going to win it when we can.' I think that’s the difference. You got to put teams away when you can and they do.”

The Panthers have lost just twice in 25 matches this season, extending their winning streak to 19 after sweeping Elizabeth Seton on Monday. The Panthers have not lost since Sept. 8 and will round out their regular season against St. Mary’s Ryken and McNamara before they attempt another run in the conference and state tournaments.

“Each player that’s on the court and on the bench really wants it,” libero Jessica Page said. “We’re all pushing each other to be better and to be excited about everything and have the energy.”

Page has been the focal point of the Panthers’ attack. Her defense and fluid passes allow setter Kathleen Maher to precisely set up her teammates. That all players on the court have the ability to attack allows Maher to be flexible.

“When teams try to defend us at critical points, we can get a hit from anywhere,” Farrar said. “From setter’s perspective, it’s like being a kid at a candy store. You can put it in five different spots.”

Using the balanced attack and stout defense, the Panthers hope the outcome of this year’s tournaments will end more favorably.

“We just feel that if we can keep our game in system, put the ball in our hitters’ hands, we’ll take our chance,” Farrar said. “Because of how this season has played out, there’s a red X on our back now. People want to beat us. So far, they’ve responded.”

1. Stone Bridge (21-1) LR: 2

The Bulldogs take the top spot after a win over John Champe and Loudoun County’s loss.

2. Flint Hill (21-1) LR: 3

The Huskies’ game against Stone Ridge from last week has been rescheduled to Thursday.

3. Loudoun County (20-1) LR: 1

The Raiders suffered their first loss of the season — to Heritage.

4. Northwest (11-1) LR: 4

The Jaguars round out the regular season this week against Springbrook and Richard Montgomery.

5. Atholton (15-2-1) LR: 5

The Raiders have not dropped a set in October.

6. Paul VI (23-2) LR: 6

The Panthers escaped O’Connell with a 3-2 win.

7. Chantilly (22-0) LR: 8

The Chargers compete in district tournament play this week.

8. Bethesda-Chevy Chase (16-1) LR: 9

The Barons finish their regular season Thursday against a tough Damascus team, which beat Magruder on Monday.

9. Washington-Lee (18-3) LR: NR

The Generals finished the regular season with a seven-game winning streak.

10. Magruder (18-1) LR: 7

The Colonels fell to Damascus in a nail-biter Monday. They lost 20-18 in the fifth set.

Dropped out: South River

On the Bubble: Middleburg Academy (22-4-1), Northern (12-1)