Fall sports teams get early start

– Dover head football coach Rudy Simonetti pointing to the scoreboard showing the score and time left on the clock when Sussex Central knocked them out of the playoffs last year. He asked the team “so what are you all going to do about that?” 2836 – Dover high quarterback candidate sophomore Jordan Moran. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Losing three days of summer break isn’t a big deal for Mike Judy.

Especially if it means he’ll be on the football field for those three days.

His Smyrna High football squad returned to the field Monday morning as fall sports teams across the state of Delaware hit the practice fields for the first time this year.

For the past few years, the first day of practice didn’t come until Aug. 15.

“It is awesome to have a couple extra days,” the Smyrna football coach said during practice early Monday afternoon. “This is good for Delaware football, in general. It’s great to be back out here, we have a good group of kids.”

Dover High field hockey coach Denise Kimbro, who is entering her 28th overall year of coaching, couldn’t have been more excited about the early start to preseason camp, either.

Riders go through warm-up drills during practice Monday. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“It’s my favorite day of the year,” she said, with a smile, Monday morning. “It (the early start) actually helps me because teachers go back to work Friday, so it would’ve killed me if we started on the 15th.”

Caesar Rodney High boys’ soccer coach Darrell Gravatt, coming off a 12-3 regular season campaign a year ago, noted that it’s nice for his team to be able to get started on a Monday rather than in the middle of the week.

“It’s a blessing to be able to go earlier,” he said during practice. “We feel like we’re getting a three-day head start on people — I know other teams can go at the same time, but it feels like it’s a benefit for us.

“It’s also good to start on a Monday, rather than in the middle of the week or on a Friday or a Saturday.”

Judy’s Eagles, after capturing three consecutive Division I state football titles from 2015-17, missed out on the DIAA playoffs last season following a 3-6 season.

An unplanned bye week, due to scheduling conflicts, and a team littered with injuries hurt the Eagles’ chances early on.

“Where we faltered last year was with our health — we got injured in some critical spots,” he said. “Every high school team, whether they have big expectations or not, are one or two injuries away from being a notch below where they think they’re going to be.

“I think we fell victim to that last year. We had zero wiggle room to begin with, and we had the injury bug hit us hard midseason,” he added. “We put the real team out on the field maybe twice — the actual, who we expected to be there, guys — and we did well in those games.”

Kimbro’s Dover hockey team is coming off a down season, in which the girls went 6-7-2 and missed the DIAA Division I playoffs. The six-win squad started five freshmen and had a total of zero seniors on the roster.

The squad made the Division I semifinals the season before, marking the program’s fifth straight winning season. The girls hope to make it back to the postseason with another young squad this year.

“I think we have a good chance of winning some games this year,” said junior captain Chelsea Johnson. “And it’s good to get the extra practice in and be out here working.”

“I feel like we have a lot of talent this year,” added senior captain Ally Manifold. “We’re young, but we had all last year to grow, so I think our sophomores are more experienced and I think we’ll be a force to be reckoned with out there.”

While the earlier start is beneficial for teams around the state, across the five main sports — football, field hockey, cross country, boys’ soccer and volleyball — it also means increased awareness of the mid-August weather forecast.

Forecasts for much of this week call for low-to-mid 80s, temperature-wise, with relatively high humidity levels.

Coaches, athletic trainers and administrators will be sure to monitor the situation and check up on its players regularly to make sure they are well-prepared for the heat.

Especially those who practice on turf fields.

“We’re going at 7 a.m., so we’re going to beat the heat, we’ll be done at 12:30,” said Kimbro. “But we give them lots of water breaks, pay close attention to the temperature on the turf — it’s a lot hotter on the turf than it actually is. We have guidelines, we follow them.”

Gravatt says he tries to get a lot of the technical, fitness and conditioning work done in the early morning practice session. Then, in the afternoon session, he works more on the live action type of practices.

“We do a lot of stretching,” he explained. “We start out doing a lot of slow movement, get the blood flowing, then we kind of slowly increase it and then bring in the ball. We try to get a lot of technical work done early before the sun gets too high.

“A lot of breaks, too. We break about every 20 minutes or so. And we get them plenty of water.”

For Judy, he says coaching experience has helped him better gauge how to hold those early-season practices for his players.

“I think 10 years ago, 15 years ago, I would’ve ground these kids into a pulp,” he explained. “I think as I’ve gotten older and wiser, with that experience and wisdom, I’ve learned that putting a tired athlete on the field after working them hard never helps you.

“They’re not going to learn that way. We spend all offseason working on conditioning, and then to bring them to camp and run them to death would be counterproductive. We try to avoid that all we can.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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