Cape wins 4th straight Division I field hockey title

Cape Henlopen players celebrate with their Division I state title trophy. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Really, the pass only took a second or two to reach her.

It just seemed to take forever when you’re waiting by yourself in front of an open goal.

“It’s a little scary because it’s like, ‘Don’t miss it,’” Cape Henlopen High’s Samantha Connors said with a laugh. “But Ella (Rishko) did a great job sending it to me,”

And both times Connors calmly smacked the ball into the cage.

Those two identical second-quarter goals, scored five minutes apart, were all the top-seeded Vikings needed to propel them to a 3-0 victory over No. 7 Polytech in the DIAA Division I field hockey state championship game on a mild Saturday afternoon.

Vikings players celebrate after beating Polytech 3-0.

The state crown was the fourth-straight for Cape (13-1) in Division I since the state tournament split into two divisions and the ninth in the last 10 seasons overall. All told, the Vikings have won 11 field hockey state titles in their history.

This championship was a little different, of course, because it was played during a pandemic.

“They’ve just responded to every change,” Cape coach Kate Austin said about her players. “They just take it in stride. This group, they work hard. It’s been four days a week since July. They just show up every day and they have fun playing a sport they love.

“The challenges of COVID have obviously been difficult. But just the hockey aspect and working with this group of girls has been easy and fun.”

“It’s a feeling that I’ve experienced many times but each time is like a once-in-a-lifetime feeling,” said junior Reagan Ciabattoni. “We worked so hard this season that it’s amazing.”

Henlopen North rival Polytech (8-7) made Cape work a little more for Saturday’s win.

The Panthers, who were playing in the state finals for just the second time in school history, held Cape scoreless for the first 25 minutes of the contest.

Going into halftime still tied would have put more pressure on the favored Vikings. But Connors scored with 5:21 left in the second quarter and then again with 30 seconds remaining to allow Cape to breathe a little easier.

The Vikings beat Polytech, 4-0, on Nov. 19.

Cape’s Emily Monigle leaps as she celebrates Samantha Connors’ second-quarter goal.

“They came out stronger than ever,” Ciabattoni said about the Panthers. “We played them on grass the first time. It’s a whole different feeling. They came ready.”

Cape didn’t mind getting an insurance goal late in the third quarter when Ciabattoni scored on a long shot from the top of the circle to make it 3-0.

The Vikings finished with decisive advantages of 13-0 in shots and 17-1 in corners.

Polytech did almost break the shutout on a scramble in front of the Cape goal with 7:38 remaining. But the Panthers couldn’t get the ball on cage as the Vikings picked up their 10th shutout of the season.

Cape allowed only five goals all fall, with two coming in its lone loss, to Division II state champion Delmar.

Polytech goalie Raegan Thomas made six saves.

“I’m proud of my team’s performance today,” said Panthers coach Torrie Huk. “They played until the very last second. Cape had a corner in the last few seconds. They could have easily given up and they didn’t.

“I hope it keeps them hungry,” she said about the experience. “They liked the taste they got of the championship game and they want to get back here. And they want to get better and put in the work. I hope this just kind of motivates them.”

Cape’s Reagan Ciabattoni gets low on the ball as Polytech’s Megan Popp defends.

Cape Henlopen is now 73-6 in its four-year run of state titles, with five of those losses coming to Delmar. This fall the Vikings out-scored their opponents, 82-5.

Coming home with another state championship trophy is the icing on the cake.

“We’ve worked really hard to follow the (coronavirus) precautions … and just stay playing,” said Connors. “We started in July and now it’s December. It’s been an extended season and it’s been a lot of work to get here but it feels great. All these girls are so amazing.”