In 1875, a story was written in the Dallas Daily Herald by a clearly bitter ex-Fort Worthian lawyer that suggested that Fort Worth, Texas was such a sleepy city that when a panther found its way to the downtown area, even it fell asleep.
Nearly 150 years after this unproven claim was published, Panther City Lacrosse Club (PCLC) is providing dozens of reasons for why Fort Worth is anything but sleepy. They are embodying the traits of the animal it’s named after: unrelenting, determined, strategic, and, most importantly, always prepared to defeat its opponent.
Since their franchise-opening game on December 4th, 2021, against the Philadelphia Wings, each of PCLC’s games have been decided in the late stages of the contest – except for their 14-8 loss to the Vancouver Warriors in Week 2. That includes the organizations first win a couple of weeks ago when they beat the New York Riptide 13-12 in overtime.
Before their first game, PCLC head coach Tracey Kelusky told his players that they need to have the mentality that they are not an expansion team that can be pushed around. He made it clear that the goal was to improve each week; following the team’s victory versus the Riptide, it’s clear they are improving.
But, winning one game shouldn’t be cause for too much celebration. Kelusky has stressed to his 1-4 team that they need to keep sticking to the long-term game plan and buying into the system, especially as a younger group that has not spent much time together as a full unit.
“From a tactical point of view, we have the systems in place and the more we trust in those things, the better off we are,” Kelusky said. “The non-negotiables of coming to work prepared – we have to do that; we have to do that more so than other groups. We have to study film, we have to come in on off-weeks because we don’t have the luxury of playing together for several years or have the superstars that other teams do.”
The organization’s first win is historic and well-earned, but it’s what PCLC does going forward that will define them.
And to think, they’re already developing an identity as a team that has a strong mental fortitude. It’s impressive to see how a team’s mentality can remain so positive and hungry for victory after coming out on the wrong end of each of their first four games, three of which were decided by three goals or less, including two one-goal losses.
PCLC defensemen Liam Byrnes spoke for his team about what it felt like to come so close to winning multiple times this year, only to go home with a loss.
“Having been so close in all these games has been mentally exhausting,” Byrnes said. “You know you’re putting all this effort in and you know you’re doing the right stuff, but you keep coming up short.”
This speaks to the resilience of this young team. Just because PCLC is a new team to the league, and just because they find themselves in a hole in the hyper-competitive West Division, doesn’t mean they are ever willing to give up. It’s much like a panther on the hunt.
Much like the players on PCLC, as an apex predator in its environment(s), a wild panther is always looking to assert its dominance by attacking and defending at all costs. To achieve those same goals, you must communicate and find different ways to be a threat.
As the last line of defense, goaltender Kevin Orleman spoke about the importance of communicating both on and off the floor.
“Our lines of communication have been very strong,” Orleman said. “We’re very active in our group chats when we’re away from the rink, and then we love spending time together when we’re at the rink. Having a strong veteran presence on the back end really helps with that. Communication is something players really pick up as they mature in this league and it’s something our younger guys have been able to pick up from them.”
Communicating also builds trust and confidence. These are two components you would want to successfully move the ball up the floor. The PCLC offense is as unselfish as it gets in the NLL. 22 different players have scored a point this season – no other team in the NLL has more different point-getters – including 10 of the 11 defensemen who have played at least one game and two of the three transition players who have stepped on the floor.
Byrnes pointed out that when defensemen like himself can make plays on offense, it makes them more eager to contribute to the scoreline.
“I think it helps keep us in these [close] games when you know as a defender you have the green light whenever you’re pushing the ball,” Byrnes said. “It gives you more confidence and you’re more likely to take chances.”
More and more chances will need to be taken throughout the season if PCLC wants to get out from the bottom of the West Division standings. And, looking forward, as this team continues to grow as a unit, they may be able to take advantage of the remaining teams on their schedule.
With 13 games left on their calendars, PCLC plays nine of those games against teams that have a record of .500 or below. Showing the spirit of a true panther, Orleman knows that those opportunities could pay dividends if PCLC can capitalize off their foe’s weaknesses.
“I know the West is a really strong division,” Orleman. “[But], there’s a couple of teams that maybe haven’t played as well as their potential, and maybe that’s an opportunity for us to take advantage of that.”
If there’s one way PCLC doesn’t embody its animalistic nature, it’s that they hunt as a team, not as individuals. Since their inaugural game, this increasingly cohesive unit has put the rest of the league on notice.
PCLC is hoping to make enough noise in the NLL for the remainder of this season that anyone who steps within the city limits will know this is a team you won’t want to sleep on.