Dover hockey seniors hope to learn from tough loss

Dover High field hockey player Superia Clark walks off the field after the Senators’ tough 1-0 OT loss to Padua in last year’s Division I state semifinals. Special to the Delaware State News/Butch Comegys

DOVER — Last season wasn’t an easy one to walk away from for the Senators.

Losing to Padua just 1-0 in overtime in the DIAA Division I field hockey state semifinals would leave any team with regrets.

And Dover High’s players got on the bus back home believing that things could have been different.

“Oh, that was terrible to get over,” said senior Kendra Durrington. “It was really bad.

“Lately, I’ve been watching that game over and over again. The whole game I was just like, ‘Oh my goodness. …’ We just needed to finish.”

But the silver lining in that bitter moment is that it left the Senators a very motivated group.

After graduating just two key players, Dover is hoping it can pick up where it left off last year. This group of seniors has reached the Division I semifinals twice in the last three seasons.

Both times the Senators lost only 1-0 in overtime. They’d like this season to be the one where Dover reaches the state championship game for the first time.

“I’ve been excited since last year,” said senior forward Chelsea Johnson. “It’s redemption year.

“When we lost my freshman year in the semifinals in overtime, it wasn’t that big a heartbreak to me. I was like, ‘I’ve got three more years.’ But last year, it hit hard that we made it so far but we just didn’t make it to the end.

Senior Chelsea Johnson was one of three Dover players to earn first-team All-Henlopen North honors last season. Delaware State News file photo

“In my mind I was thinking, ‘What if at practice we just sprinted a couple more sprints harder?’ We could have changed the game because we were so tired. I think everybody was.”

In a fall season that’s been delayed and condensed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Senators will open pre-season practice on Monday. Their first of an 11-game regular season will be at Sussex Tech on Oct. 22.

Dover returns seven players who earned all-Henlopen Conference Northern Division honors last fall. Johnson and Julia Ilias made first-team all-North, Superia Clark, Alayna Gigliotti, Durrington and goalie Richana Brown made second team while Lily Turner was honorable mention.

Coach Denise Kimbro knew she had a talented squad last year. But, with only four seniors on the roster, she thought they might have been a little too young to really compete for a state crown.

“I think they were always motivated but they were young,” said Kimbro. “It’s hard to put 14 and 15 year-olds at UD underneath the big lights in a big stadium. They don’t have the maturity.

“They were 10th-grade kids and they were put on a stage with upperclassmen. And even though they’d been varsity for two years, there’s still a big difference between a 10th-grader and a senior.”

Based on last year’s roster, Dover should have eight seniors back from a squad that finished 10-5-2. The Senators lost only three of their last 15 contests with all five losses coming against teams that reached either the Division I or II state semifinals.

Considering how strange the pandemic has made everything, it’s been a relatively normal off-season for Dover’s players.

They’ve played in summer-league games at a few locations including DE Turf, where they still have another contest today.

Kendra Durrington, a senior defender, says the Senators are a motivated team this fall. Delaware State News file photo

If the Senators aren’t successful this season, they don’t want it to be because they didn’t work hard enough.

“COVID kind of messed up everything but, at the same time, it’s not as bad as I expected,” Brown said about playing over the summer. “We’re pretty normal except for wearing masks all the time.

“We’re definitely a more mature team. We’re really bonded together. We’ve had time to sit back and think about all the mistakes. We’re just working in practice to fix the mistakes.”

Being through some tough times together has a way of bringing a team together. Clearly the Senators have had enough success mixed with some hard losses to know what they want to accomplish this season.

“We’ve definitely been putting in the work like crazy,” said Ilias, a senior defender. “On Sept. 28 it will feel normal again.

“I think love of the game, for sure, is the first motivator. But we’ve always gotten so close. Our Coach definitely wants us to get to the finals and so do we.

“We are pumped,” she added. “We are very ready for the season to start.”