After getting to state finals, IR sets bar high again

Indian River’s Brynn McCabe, left, and Savannah O’Shields, right, are both back from the Indians’ Division II state finalist squad. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DAGSBORO — Jodi Stone can look back five years and see the path that led her program here.

In 2016, Indian River High’s field hockey team made the DIAA state tournament.

In 2018, the Indians got to the state semifinals — and were the only team to score on Delmar all season.

And last fall, IR reached the DIAA Division II state finals for the first time, scoring three times on Delmar in a 6-3 loss.
So, clearly, the Indians are heading in the right direction.

“Each year it’s progressively getting better,” said Stone. “Each year they keep raising the bar.

“Basically, going into each season, our expectations are to be able to at least build from last year, improve and continue to move forward.”

The question now for IR is what does it do for an encore to its big season?

Not only did the Indians get to the state title game for the first time but they also set a school record for wins in a 16-2 campaign. Their only two losses were to Delmar.

Over the last four seasons, they are a combined 43-20-4 with four state tourney appearances.

The good news for IR is that it only graduated four seniors. The bad news is that all four of those players were All-Henlopen Southern Division selections.

On the other hand, the Indians return a lot of players with varsity experience.

Senior forward Kayler Townsend leads that group after earning first-team Division II All-State honors last season. She is joined by junior second-team All-South picks, forward Emma Ruley, midfielder Jessica Rybicki and defender Morgan McGee along with honorable mention goalie Allyson Clark.

Forward Kayler Townsend (24) was a first-team Division II All-Stater for IR last fall. Delaware State News file photo

“Our underclassmen have really stepped up to the plate,” said Stone, who was voted the Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year last season.

“Yes, it’s always hard to lose seniors. But the underclassmen are just quick understudies. They have really jumped in with both feet to fill those voids. They look really good.”

Statistically, IR set another school record by scoring 87 goals last fall. The Indians allowed only 22 goals with eight shutouts.

But 10 of the goals IR allowed came in its two losses to Delmar. Clearly, the four-time state champion Wildcats are still the team that the Indians have to get past to win either a Henlopen South or Division II state crown.

IR, which opens the condensed season on Oct. 20 at Polytech, travels to Delmar on Oct. 29. The Wildcats come into the season riding a 62-game unbeaten streak

“We pay attention but we don’t hyper-focus on them,” Stone said about Delmar. “We tell our team, we can only control what we can control. That’s what we need to focus on.

“We’re not going to let it disrupt our philosophy, our flow of game. We just have to know that it’s out there. It’s going to be a challenge that we’re going to have to overcome.”

The Indians, who are playing only Henlopen Conference teams this fall, also have a Nov. 12 showdown at three-time defending Division I state champion Cape Henlopen. IR didn’t face the Vikings last season.

Clearly, it won’t be easy for the Indians even to duplicate what they accomplished last season. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

“If we get invited back to ‘The Dance’ this year. … there’s some things that we would definitely change,” said Stone. “It’s all a learning curve. When you’ve been there as many times as Cape and Delmar, those are things that just come naturally.

“That kind of competition gives the girls the incentive and the desire. … Sometimes they have to experience those things in order to become confident. Even though we lost that (championship) game, we’re still chipping away at some of the things that put Delmar up on a pedestal. We’re slowly chipping away. And we are gaining that recognition, I guess, that we are competitive and we’re not going to back down.”