Eagles welcome boys lax tourney challenge after winning 8 of 10

SMYRNA — Earlier in the day, Smyrna High’s boys’ lacrosse players liked their chances of making the state tournament.

But as Saturday evening dragged on, and the time the Eagles thought they’d hear came and went, doubt began to creep in.

“We were like, ‘Oh no, this isn’t good,’” said senior attack Jacob Soroko. “We were like, ‘Oh man, what’s going on?’ … It kind of built the tension.”

Finally, though, the text showed up. Smyrna was in the tourney.

Considering the Eagles started the season with five straight losses, and were 1-6 after seven games, that was no small accomplishment.

Jacob Soroko (No. 8) of Smyrna celebrates a goal by teammate Jake Kaiser (No. 20) in a game earlier this season. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

Clearly, No. 15 Smyrna (8-7) faces a monumental task in today’s opening-round of the DIAA state tourney. The Eagles head to Wilmington to take on No. 2 Salesianum (11-3) at 6 p.m. at Baynard Stadium.

All the Sals have done is capture seven state titles since 2007, including the last two. And Sallies has played in 10 straight state championship games.

Still, Smyrna will gladly take the state tourney berth anyway as their reward for winning eight of their last 10 games.

“It didn’t hit me until I kind of put things in perspective with these guys on Senior Night,” said coach Mike Zulkowski. “I was talking to my fiancee and she’s like, ‘Going from 0-5 to 8-7 is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.’

“It’s a testament to these guys and how hard they work every day. Since the 0-5 start, the senior class just refused to accept that we weren’t going to be a .500 team. These guys deserve all the credit. They’ve completely turned it around. It’s been awesome.”

Senior midfielder Jake Kaiser said, despite the rough start, the Eagles never gave up on the idea of making the state tournament.

Jacob Soroko (No. 8) of Smyrna takes a shot on goal in a game against Polytech. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

This is the second time in three years and the third time in its six varsity seasons that Smyrna has qualified for the state tourney.

“We knew how good we were and we know how good we play together,” said Kaiser. “We kind of lost focus. But, after those five games, we just kind of started playing our lacrosse.”

“We didn’t really panic, we knew we’d be all right,” said Soroko. “That (the state tournament) was always still a goal for us. Even starting out 0-5 we didn’t lose hope of making the tournament. We knew we had to go on a run toward the end.

“We definitely had to earn this one. We all came together.”

On top of the slow start, the Eagles have a pretty small roster. They have only 20 varsity players — half of which are seniors.

By comparison, Sallies has 19 seniors alone and a total of 35 players on its varsity roster. The Sals are coached by Dover teachers Bob Healy and Shawn Plews.
“It’s been like this all year,” said Zulkowski, who has lost a couple seniors to injuries. “Right now, with the core group of kids that we’ve got, they’re doing a phenomenal job.”

The Eagles are very aware of the challenge that awaits them tonight. But they don’t think they’ll be intimidated.

Both Kaiser and Soroko play on the Smyrna football squad that beat the Sals in two of three meetings in the last two seasons.

“We know how Sallies is and how good they are,” said Kaiser. “(But) we are very grateful to have made the playoffs. That’s how we’re looking at it.”

“We know they’re a powerhouse,” said Soroko. “We’re just going to go out and play hard, that’s all we can do. … We’re all going to play our hearts out.”

Notes

Two other downstate teams are in action today in the boys’ lacrosse tournament with No. 4 Cape Henlopen hosting No. 13 St. Andrews (8-6) and No. 6 Caesar Rodney (12-4) hosting No. 11 Milford (9-7) at 7 p.m.  … The Riders just beat the Buccaneers, 19-2, in Friday’s Henlopen Conference championship game. … On Wednesday, No. 10 Dover (11-4) plays No. 7 Delaware Military (11-4) at Tower Hill at 5 p.m.  The Senators will be out to avenge a 10-9 loss to the Seahawks on May 1. … Also on Wednesday, No. 8 Polytech (11-4) hosts No. 9 Tower Hill (8-6) at 7 p.m. The Panthers are back in the state tourney for the first time since 2014.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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