HOUSTON - Mike Niemi has never had a team take a loss as hard as his current group did back in December.
It was the season-opener for Katy Paetow back on December 1 against Cypress Lakes and in the end, a 61-52 loss is what the Panthers would walk into the locker room with.
It was in there at that moment that the players vowed they would not lose again this season.
"It lit a fire under us," Katy Paetow senior Everett Marlatt said.
Well the fire hasn't been extinguished, and since that game they are winners of 23-straight contests and punched their ticket to the program's first-ever Regional Championship with a dominating 70-42 win over Goose Creek Memorial on Tuesday night.
"They're special," Niemi said. "I've never had a team that took one loss so badly that they were able to gradually as the year goes on progressively get better and better. And it's been in areas that we've had to get better at. They're getting better in half-court defense, defensive rebounding and they're buying into the idea that we have the potential to be a very, very good basketball team.
"We have a state opportunity with this group."
VYPE Highlights 🎥: @paetowhoops continues to make history as they rumble past GCM to advance to first-ever Regional Final #txhshoops @PaetowPress @PaetowHS @hoopinsider @EverettMarlatt @KPRC2RandyMc @PaetowHS_ABC @KatyISDAthletic pic.twitter.com/2Kl9ccxE7c— vypehouston (@vypehouston) March 3, 2021
Even though Katy Paetow has been open for just a couple of years, the Panthers are senior-laden with six on the roster.
Led by the likes of Everett Marlatt, Jayden McCullough, Khi Watkins, Greg Dunham, Kameron Spanburg and Brian McKnight, this senior group is leaving a legacy at Katy Paetow that will set the bar high for classes to come.
"We're setting a legacy for not even just the kids right under us but for kids in five or six years," Marlatt, who had a pair of late-game monster dunks against GCM, said. "They can come up and do what we're doing. If we can do it, they can do it."
Marlatt is one of those six seniors, which is where the vocal leadership in the locker room usually comes from. But for him, it is really a team thing.
"It is a collective thing," he said. "We're a player-led program. We all talk to each other. We'll coach ourselves at practice sometimes, coach lets us take the reigns a little bit and I feel like that helps us as well."
VYPE 🎥: OH MY!!!! 😤😳🔥@paetowhoops senior @EverettMarlatt goes BIG SLAM here ... Panthers are rolling. #txhshoops— vypehouston (@vypehouston) March 3, 2021
(@MaxPreps @KPRC2RandyMc @HTownHSS @ToddFreed57 @KatyISDAthletic @Ballislife @overtime @briancmcknight @PaetowHS @PaetowPress @PaetowFootball @hoopinsider) pic.twitter.com/dMsBZLwrCR
Katy Paetow opened its doors in 2017 and is in the midst of its third varsity season.
In the first year, the Panthers went 11-20 overall and 6-8 in district play. In year two, they flipped the script going 26-8 overall, 12-1 in district play and making it to the second round of the playoffs.
Now ... a 23-1 overall record and a chance on Friday to punch their ticket into the Class 5A State Semifinals with a win over No.2 Beaumont United.
"It's unbelievable, we took about a minute and a half [earlier today] and stood in the arena after our shoot around and we said 'hey, not many people get the opportunity to be here'," Niemi said. "It's a blessing for our group to have this opportunity, to have a chance to even compete for a state title and even be in a regional final. We've been preaching big picture all year long, so we are looking forward to the opportunity to see what this team is really made of against an amazing Beaumont United team."
Katy junior Charles Chukwu added: "For us, we have to lock in. We have to stay disciplined. I feel like if we limit our mistakes, we can be even better than we were today. As far as the playoffs, we just focus on one game at a time."
Even though Katy Paetow is making all of this history in 2021, there may still be some people in the city or the state going ... who is Beaumont United playing on Friday?
"People don't know how to say the name, they ask us where we are, some don't know we're in Katy ISD because we're not competing against Seven Lakes, Katy Taylor, Tompkins and those guys," Niemi said. "So, because people don't know who we are, games like this and having a defining win like this and going to the Regional Finals, it speaks volumes for these guys.
"And it does so much for our program for years to come."
Well, it's time to learn how to say Paetow, because the Panthers are here.
VYPE POSTGAME: @paetowhoops head coach Mike Niemi talks with VYPE. A remarkable run by @PaetowHS continues in the 2021 playoffs. They are 23-1 on the year and face Beaumont United next #txhshoops @hoopinsider @PaetowHS_ABC @KatyISDAthletic @KPRC2RandyMc pic.twitter.com/9NloR4zB8h— vypehouston (@vypehouston) March 3, 2021