Cape Henlopen earns 8th straight championship for retiring coach

 

DOVER — P.J. Kesmodel didn’t bring girls’ lacrosse to Cape Henlopen High, of course.

But the veteran coach did bring state championship girls’ lacrosse to Lewes.

So on Tuesday night, Kesmodel’s Vikings presented him with the only retirement gift he really wanted — an eighth straight state title.

In what Kesmodel says was the last game of his 52-year coaching career, top-seeded Cape ran away to a convincing 16-4 victory over No. 3 Tower Hill in the DIAA state finals at Wesley College’s Miller Stadium.

The Vikings (17-1) led just 4-3 with 7:52 left in the first half before reeling off 12 of the contest’s last 13 goals.

It was the seventh season in a row that Cape finished unbeaten against Delaware schools.

And in a nice finishing touch, it was also Kesmodel’s 73rd birthday. His players broke into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ for their coach shortly after the game ended.

A number of family members, old friends and former players turned out for the game.

“We figured we’d come all this way — it’s his 73rd birthday and his whole family flew in from all over the country — so we just wanted to do it for him,” said senior Lizzie Frederick. “He just knows so much. He’s been coaching for over 50 years — it’s just insane. He knows game strategies, he knows how to coach players up and get them where they need to be. He made a club team for us. He did everything he could for this program.”

“We were all talking on the field, we were saying ‘win it for him’ — get him his birthday wish,” said junior Cailey Thornburg.

Early on, the Hillers and their goalie, Callie Wakefield, were living up to their reputation as perhaps the state’s top defensive squad. In particular, they were face-guarding Frederick, who scored eight goals in Cape’s semifinal win over Caravel.

Gradually, though, the Vikings pulled away.

“We were getting the draws and that was critical,” said Kesmodel. “I thought if we started making some shots, we’d settle down and be OK. We were getting the shots, we just weren’t making them. I figured eventually we were going to break it open.”

A three-goal burst in the final six minutes of the first half gave Cape a 7-3 advantage at intermission.

In the second half, the Vikings controlled the ball on offense with their trademark ‘spread yellow’ attack, patiently waiting for opportunities and keeping Tower Hill off offense.

Thornburg finished with a game-high four goals as 10 different Vikings scored in the contest. Frederick, Evelyn Shoop and Chloe Schaeffer all netted a pair of goals with Mallory Jones, Lindsay Monigle, Kaitlyn Klabe, Annie Judge, Alia Marshall and Christina Benson accounting for the others.

Goalie Iseabal Cryne also made some big saves, especially in the first half when she had five stops.

For a program that’s had as much success as Cape, there’s usually a sense of relief when it wins another state crown. But the Vikings were also happy to celebrate, too.

“It’s everything to us,” said Frederick. “We work so hard in the winter. We are at ‘The Body Shop’ every single day working out as hard as we can. And we come out to practice every day and we compete. It’s just something that we live for. We just love to win so much.

“Last year, I definitely felt relief when it was all over. … Last year I felt like we played not to lose. But this year we played to win.”

As for Kesmodel, he’s talked about retirement before. This time, though, he says he really means it.

Including a stellar career as a high school coach in Maryland, his teams won a total of 13 state championships. That includes eight in his nine seasons at Cape.

The funny thing is, Kesmodel never planned on being the Vikings’ head coach. He was just going to help out when he moved to the area.

“I am done,” Kesmodel said with a laugh. “This is what I was hoping for, to go out with a title. It usually doesn’t work out that way but it did, thank God. The kids played really hard and they played great. In the second half, we really put it together.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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