CHESTERTOWN, Md. — Patuxent field hockey players wear black headbands inscribed with "#believe," a motto that has fueled many Panthers teams.
It was difficult to stay optimistic after the team's 2015 state championship loss, and even harder after a state semifinal loss a season ago. But Patuxent defeated Francis Scott Key, 2-0, in the Maryland 1A final Saturday at Washington College to capture the first state crown in the team's history.
Coach Lynn Powell often tells her players to "write their own story," and in that sense the past three seasons were chapters that led to Saturday's triumphant ending.
"Our attitude has totally changed," junior Mack Dinopoulos said. "My freshman year, we made it to states and were scared little freshmen. Last year, we were kind of expected to go to states. This year, we just did it for ourselves."
The Panthers (16-1) rolled through the regular season, with their only loss coming to 4A power Severna Park. Dinopoulos called the 2-0 defeat a "confidence booster," considering the résumé of their opponent.
Patuxent picked up shutout wins over Southern and La Plata in its first two postseason games before cruising past Crisfield, 5-2, in the state semifinals. That attitude carried into the championship, with junior Kendra Scruggs scoring 12 minutes into the game against the Eagles to give Patuxent a 1-0 lead.
Dinopoulos provided an insurance goal early in the second half when she dribbled down the left sideline, beat a defender and slipped the ball past the goalkeeper. Francis Scott Key struggled to move the ball into scoring position throughout the game.
"We came out with an intensity we had this whole season," Dinopoulos said. "It showed on that field. We knew what we wanted, and we weren't going to lose when we got it."
"It was a little surreal," Powell said afterward. "I thought I was going to cry a little sooner, but I think I was still in shock at first. And then I started hugging my seniors and kind of lost it."
In anticipation of the playoffs, the 18-year coach called on former players to email her photos from their playing days for good luck. The pictures came streaming into Lynn's inbox. She printed them out, laminated them and hung them around the locker room. A couple photos arrived with a message that resonated: "Finish our story."
After the buzzer sounded, the Panthers raced to the track and celebrated with their fans, bouncing up and down and chanting: "I believe that we just won!"
Powell looked on, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"The story ends with this," she said.