Field hockey to hold Division I and Division II state tournaments

If somebody had tried to split up the DIAA field hockey state tournament before last season, they might have had to answer to Jodi Hollamon first.

With her Delmar High program a perennial challenger for the state title, the veteran coach wanted the Wildcats to capture the crown when it was just one tournament.

“I would have said, ‘Can you give us a chance before you do that?’” Hollamon said with a laugh.

But Delmar finally won its first field hockey state championship last November and Hollamon is on board with the state tourney being split into two this year.

When the fall sports season gets underway on Friday, the state’s biggest schools will be competing for a Division I field hockey title with the smallest ones going after the Division II crown.

Because there’s fewer big schools, Division I will have an eight-team bracket while Division II will have a 12-team tournament. All told, four more teams will make a tourney than under the old, one-team bracket.

Delmar defeats Tower Hill 3-0 to win the State Championship at UD’s Rullo stadium on Friday night. (Special to the Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

Ironically, the change comes after two small schools — Delmar and Tower Hill — just played in the 2016 state finals.

Hollamon, though, said that, in general, big schools have some advantages.

“Year-in and year-out, we have been able to compete with schools that are much larger than us,” she said. “(But) I do think the playing field should be leveled based on your size. We can’t physically compete with 1,800 kids when we have 600.

“Even as far as funding goes, the bigger schools have (artificial) turf, we don’t have turf. In that aspect of it, I’m excited to see the split because I’m excited to see some schools that maybe didn’t get there (make the tournament).”

One thing that helped spur the vote for the two-division format was Dover not making last year’s tournament.

The Senators finished 8-7 and had enough points to make the 16-team field. But Dover got bumped from the tourney by a squad with fewer points — St. Georges (9-6) — which received an automatic bid by winning Blue Hen Conference Flight B.

Delmar head coach, Jodi Hollamon, and Ashlyn Carr share a hug as Delmar defeats Tower Hill 3-0 to win the State Championship at UD’s Rullo stadium on Friday night. (Special to the Delaware State News / Doug Curran)

And the Senators had just beat the Hawks, 4-1, late in the season. But coach Denise Kimbro also knows Dover controlled its own destiny before losing its last three games.

“I remind them of it every day,” she said. “It won’t happen (again).”

The split tournament won’t change anything with the Henlopen Conference this season. Teams in both the Northern and Southern Divisions will still face each other with an overall champion decided.

In the state tourneys, however, longtime powers Cape Henlopen and Delmar will be in different brackets. The Vikings and Wildcats squared off in four out of five state finals between 2011 and ‘15.

Tower Hill, which has 18 field hockey state crowns on its resume, will also be in Division II with Delmar, which returns all but one starter from last year’s state championship squad.

The state’s coaches approved the two-bracket format on a two-year basis this spring.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said coach Lynn Richardson, whose Polytech program played in the 2014 state title game. “Obviously it gives more teams a chance to play in the tournament.

“I haven’t heard anything negative from the soccer world. They seem pretty happy with it. I think it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.”

One thing that helped spur the vote for the two-division format was coach Denise Kimbro’s Dover team not making last year’s tournament. (Delaware State News file photo)

In the long run, Hollamon doesn’t think it will mean any less to a team if it wins a Division I or a Division II state title.

“The ring and the jacket will still say, ‘2017 state champions,’” she said. “I don’t think it’s going for anything lesser. To be honest with you, Division II, in my opinion, is a more difficult division to win than Division I.

“It’s not just because the number of teams but because of the competition that’s there. I think it’s more even in Division II.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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