On Oct. 10, 1987, 29 years ago, the Sweet Home girls volleyball finally lost a match, snapping its 292-match winning streak.
Horseheads, an Elmira-area school in Section IV, ended the Panthers’ streak with a three-set victory in the championship game of the Eden Invitational. Nine years and 10 graduating classes later, the longest win streak in American sports history at the time was over.
Sweet Home’s dominant reign began in 1978 and still stands as the nation’s longest winning streak in girls’ sports.
It was the nation’s longest streak in any sport, until Cherry Creek boys tennis, located in Colorado, broke it in the '90s. Brandon wrestling (Fl) now owns the record, racking up 459 consecutive dual match victories that ended in 2008. Brandon’s streak lasted 36 years.
Those dominant Sweet Home teams were coached by Sally Kus, who was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. Kus compiled a staggering 729-29 record in her 23 years as coach.
During the streak, the Panthers posted eight consecutive undefeated seasons and 10 consecutive Section VI championships.
Here’s an excerpt from Mike Harrington’s story that appeared in The News on Oct. 13, 1987, three days after the streak ended.
‘Obit’ buries Sweet Home
By Mike Harrington
News Sports Reporter
Died: Sweet Home win streak. Immediate relatives: this year’s team. Close relatives: all the girls who have played since it started. Burial was Oct. 10, 1987 at Eden.
Flowers gratefully declined except from members of the boys volleyball team. Visitors may pay their respects Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Frontier.
With the disappointment caused by the loss of their national scholastic all-sports record for consecutive victories slowly beginning to fade, coach Sally Kus’ club was back at practice Monday.
Horseheads ended the Panthers’ string of 292 straight victories Saturday night with a 15-8, 14-16, 15-11 win in the championship match of the Eden Invitational. The remarkable skein, which began after a loss to Orchard Park in 1978, shattered the previous national record of 218 set by Baskin High School (La.) girls basketball team from 1947-53.
As their “obit” exhibits, the Panthers were able to laugh upon their return to the court despite the defeat.
“I didn’t realize it until after the match,” said Kus, a noted believer in superstition. “But that match was my 13th career loss here.” She is 379-12 since 1974.
Sweet Home’s next outing is Wednesday night at Frontier, where it will attempt to break a losing streak for the first time since the current players were in elementary school.
As can be expected, many tears were shed after Sweet Home failed to return the final serve from Horseheads’ Jennifer Polo. But Kus remained a model of stoicism until the Sweet Home boys volleyball finally broke her down with an emotion-charged, impromptu ceremony Monday.
“They came to our scrimmage and gave each one of the girls a rose,” she said. “And then their coach (Dave Beiter) came with roses for me. It was really very touching.”
Although the loss was a moment she had long dreaded, it progressed the way Kus often said she hoped it would, with her team “going down spiking,” and falling to a school that played a high-quality match.
“I’m glad, and I know the girls are glad that we lost to a program similar to ours, one that starts girls in seventh grade and is a very technical program,” Kus said.
Horseheads, an Elmira-area school, has won five Section IV titles in the last seven years. The Lady Raiders had extended Sweet Home to 15-12 in the decisive game at the Sweet Home Tournament on Sept. 26.
After rolling Saturday’s finally game, Horseheads had five match points at 14-11 in the second. Finally — after nearly a decade — Kus thought the end was imminent.
“I never felt pessimistic until the fifth time,” she said. “I had used our 12 subs and all of my timeouts and I had no more tactics to try to stop them. I turned to my assistant (Ken Fournier) and said, “Be ready, this could be it.”
Incredibly, it wasn’t.
Relying on senior hitter Aimee Kozloski, Sweet Home scored the next points to take the game and earn temporary reprieve.
“Aimee was just crazy at the end of that game,” said Kus. “She was playing with wild abandon and it really got the team going.
“When the game ended, Ken turned to me and said, ‘What did you say a few minutes ago?’”
But with the emotional tide clearly in its favor, Sweet Home could not stand prosperity. After grabbing an 8-5 third-game lead, four Panthers combined to hit five spikes narrowly out of bounds.
“That was when you could feel the kids losing control,” Kus said. “Horseheads did nothing to get ahead except watch the ball go out. Then they really started spiking and serving.”
“Some of the pressure is off now,” said Kozlowski. “But it wasn’t too hard before because we had each other to play for. It was a very fair game. They were better than us on that day, but we were better than them at our tournament.”
“It was going through our minds at 14-11 (in the second game) that this was it,” admitted junior setter Nicole Geraci. “We came back, but it got to 14-11 in the third game and we started thinking again.
“I really felt bad, but I thought we played well. There wasn’t much we could do.”
The raw finality of the defeat hit during the post-match wards presentation.
“The kids were super about being composed,” said Kus. “The ones having the most trouble were the ones who’ve been in the program since the eighth grade.”
Having survived the emotional rollercoaster, the Panthers are now looking to what will be — and what has been.
“We’ve talked a lot in the last couple of days,” said Kus. “The girls have to realize the hoopla this will create. It’s just like the hoopla when we broke the record (Nov. 20, 1985 against West Seneca West). They say, ‘All we did was lose.’ But I’ve been reminding them that all we did on that night was win.”
On that night and on 291 others.