Dover back in volleyball tourney for first time since 2006

DOVER — A year ago, they thought a state tournament berth was all but in their grasp.

All Dover High’s volleyball players had to do was beat M.O.T. Charter in their final match and the program would be in the state tourney for the first time in over a decade.

But it didn’t happen. The Senators dropped the match 3-1 — after winning the first set 25-14.

“I remember being so excited for that game — being like, ‘This is going to get us into states,’ ” said junior middle blocker Danielle Doyle. “When it didn’t happen, we were really upset about it.”

A year later, Dover didn’t let the opportunity slip through its fingers again.

The Senators’ 11-4 record put them in the DIAA state tournament for the first time since they won the Henlopen Conference title in 2006.

Dover, seeded No. 17, will face No. 16 Cape Henlopen (9-6) today at 6 p.m. at Caesar Rodney in the tourney’s opening round. No. 9 CR (12-3) will then face No. 24 St. Georges (10-5) in the second match of the doubleheader.

Just seeing a state tourney bracket with ‘Dover’ in it meant something to the Senators.

“It was really exciting,” said Doyle. “For the past three years that I’ve been here, we’ve been working toward it. For us to finally be here, it’s great.”

The Senators didn’t just get back to the overnight, of course.

Over the last three seasons, they’ve gone from 4-10 to 9-6 to 11-4 under coach Alaina Schleich. A native of Ohio, Schleich coached in both Ohio and Maryland for a total of eight years before coming to Dover three seasons ago.

“I think it’s the dedication of our players,” said Schleich. “We started our first year with no summer program. I came in in like late July. There was no summer season, no off-season (workouts).

“But last summer and the summer before that, we did two summer leagues and we’re in the gyms for open gyms and most of our girls are playing on club teams. Just having their hands on a volleyball makes a difference. … It was a lot of hard work.”

Schleich also thinks Dover’s middle-school program, coached by Kenny Roach, will begin to pay more dividends at the varsity level.

Doyle and outside hitter Victoria Anyanwu, also a junior, have grown as the program has grown. The 5-foot-11 Doyle, a second-team all-Henlopen North pick last fall, has a team-high 130 kills and 50 blocks this year with the 5-foot-5 Anyanwu adding 122 kills and a team-best 169 digs.

“We’re all working hard and we want to win,” said Anyanwu, who won the first-singles state title in tennis last spring. “We’re putting the work in during the off-season.

“I know for me, personally, I wanted to work harder for next year so we could actually makes states,” she said about narrowly missing the tournament last year.

Even though she knew Dover was going to be in this year’s bracket, Anyanwu admits it was “nerve-wracking” waiting for it to come out on Saturday.

Cape Henlopen is an interesting matchup for the Senators. While the Henlopen North rival Vikings beat Dover, 3-2, on Oct. 18, every set was decided by two or three points.

Cape finally registered the victory by scores of 27-25, 25-22, 22-25, 22-25, 16-14. Between them, the Senators have only four seniors on their varsity rosters.

“It was a really tight match,” said Schleich. “It was back and forth, back and forth. In the first two sets, we just struggled to make everything work. In the third set, we were down 11-8 and I was like, ‘We’re going to get swept. We need to get it together.’ We battled back.”

“When the bracket first comes out, you immediately get butterflies in your stomach – like it’s a crazy-big match,” said Doyle. “But really, you just have to play how you play.

“The scores were so close (with Cape). You can always analyze each mistake that you make.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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