Battle-tested Eagles prefer playing tough opponents in volleyball

Sophia Basler. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — The Smyrna High volleyball team has always challenged itself during the nonconference portion of its schedule over the last decade.

The Eagles aren’t satisfied with Henlopen Conference championships. They want to be able to compete when they reach the state tournament.

This year is no different as Smyrna faced Archmere Academy, St. Mark’s and Delaware Military Academy in three of its first five contests. Those three schools have combined to win six state titles since 2010.

So it was a big deal for the Eagles when they knocked of Delaware Military 3-1 on Sept. 17.

“It shows what Smyrna volleyball is and we’re willing to push ourselves really hard,” said junior outside hitter Sophia Basler. “It was amazing. It really helped us like, ‘Hey, we can beat these teams.’ The school spirit was amazing. Our coaches really helped us with that and it was a great experience. We were so happy.”

It was the first time Smyrna had beaten Delaware Military since 2011 and snapped a seven-year losing streak to the Seahawks. It was also the first victory for the Eagles over an upstate school since Oct. 24, 2017 when they defeated Wilmington Friends.

Smyrna, which enters today’s home contest against Polytech at 5-2 overall, has won the last four Henlopen Conference championships. The last time the Eagles lost a match against a conference opponent was Oct. 24, 2014 in the Henlopen title game against Delmar.

But the Eagles have only made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament once in their history, back in 2013.

This group is working to change that. It starts with facing teams of that caliber, says junior setter Hannah Osborne.

“If you want to get better at something, you have to practice at a higher level,” Osborne said. “Playing those upstate teams helps us be more disciplined on defense and forces us to lower our unforced errors.”

Smyrna’s only two losses this year came against Archmere and St. Mark’s.

“St. Mark’s and Archmere in my opinion will be in the top-four in the state and I enjoy going up against that type of talent,” said Smyrna coach Danny Wandless, the only coach in program history. “It gives us an idea of the level that we need to play at. It gives us the whole season to work to that level so we can have a fighting chance in the playoffs, if we make the playoffs.”

The Eagles graduated four players from last year’s squad, which won the Henlopen Conference before receiving a bye, then fell to St. Mark’s in the second round of the state tournament.

Basler has returned for her second year as a starter at outside hitter while Osborne is also in her second season starting at setter. They’re joined by three seniors in Jenn Sloven, Alex Faragher and Emma Mayew.

Sofia Lerro, Rachel Youngcourt, Morgan Donahue and Shelby Fedele round out the junior class while sophomore Gianna Romero was also called up to varsity this season.

“I think we’re capable of a lot,” Sloven said. “We lost four seniors, but the rest of varsity is still there. We only brought up three players and we already knew them and have been playing together for years. I think that’s a huge advantage for us.”

Osborne leads the teams in assists while Basler is tops in kills.

“We go to Sophia when we need to get out of a jam,” Wandless said. “We expect her to finish plays and Jenn is really developing into a dominant middle. I look forward to seeing her develop as we go through the season.”

While there were some newcomers to the varsity team this year, this group has been together for a while.

Basler said these players have been with one another since they were 11-years-old.

“I think our chemistry on the court is our biggest strength,” Basler said. “It’s not just on the court, it’s off the court as well. We all get along so well. It really translates. We play for each other, we don’t play for ourselves. We really want everyone on the team to succeed.”

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