6-1 Smyrna girls’ soccer team eyes CR tonight

SMYRNA — Being surprised isn’t always a good thing when you’re a high school coach.

But, in the case of this year’s Smyrna High girls’ soccer team, Ryan Buchanan isn’t complaining.

“I don’t know if any of us expected the success that we’ve had,” he said on Monday. “We had some new players — some players who filled in. But everyone from last year is playing at a level higher than they were last year.

“You hope for the growth. (But) as a team, we’re surprised. You think you know what you have but then, ‘Hey…’it’s a good thing.”

The Eagles (2-0 Henlopen North, 6-1 overall) will certainly have to be at their best tonight when they host perennial division favorite Caesar Rodney (2-0, 5-1) in a Henlopen Northern Division matchup at 7 p.m. Smyrna has never beaten the Riders.

Smyrna junior midfielder Nnennaya Okorie, left, said winning a state tournament game is one of the Eagles’ big goals this year. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Smyrna junior midfielder Nnennaya Okorie, left, said winning a state tournament game is one of the Eagles’ big goals this year. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

But it’s not like the success of Smyrna’s entire season is riding on tonight’s game.

Probably the Eagles’ biggest goal is trying to earn the program’s first state tournament victory. Smyrna has made the DIAA state tourney four of the last six years, going 63-29-4 overall in that span.

“We’re always trying to get to that next level,” said junior midfielder Nnennaya Okorie. “(Winning a state tournament game) is definitely a big goal that we can definitely make. We’ve beat teams that we lost to last year.”

“That would be a huge deal,” said senior midfielder Allie Hubert. “I know this program would change after that if we did. It would be awesome.”

Outside of a 4-0 loss to Indian River, things have gone pretty smoothly for Smyrna so far. The Eagles have outscored their first six opponents by a combined 34-5.

Probably the biggest surprise has been the play of the Eagles’ defense, which has posted five shutouts this season. Smyrna’s starting goalie, Cassidy Cook, is only a freshman.

Senior Emily Fardoulis has also seen time in goal.

“This year we were a little scared with our main goalie leaving,” said Hubert. “We didn’t know what kind of freshmen we had coming up. So when they came up and we started winning games, we got really excited.”

“Throughout the years we were like, ‘I wonder what’s coming up?,’” said senior middle back Brianna Distler. ‘‘I don’t know.’ We have four really talented freshmen so it’s really exciting. And it’s good to know that, we’re moving on, but we still have good players.”

Offensively, senior Stacey Staley has netted a team-high nine goals with Okorie and senior Samantha Greim adding eight apiece. Hubert has four goals along with a team-high five assists.

What Buchanan likes is that his players don’t seem to be satisfied with just what they’ve accomplished so far.

“They’re winning, but they’re not happy about the way they’re playing,” he said about his players. “They’re self-critical. When we win they’re like, ‘Well, this wouldn’t be good enough to beat CR.’ … They’re not hard on themselves, they’re enjoying it.

“But ultimately they have big goals — the seniors especially — to get things done that they haven’t done before.”

“We always want to play our best — and even our best isn’t good enough for us,” said Distler. “We’re always looking to work harder and get better. We are very critical. We always have things that we can work on.”

“We still have harder teams that we need to stay focused for,” said Hubert. “We always have to get better. We’re not even close to being the best yet.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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