From the sports editor: Smyrna won state title for Shaner

Nicki-Shirey

Nicki Shirey didn’t know about the purple ribbons until the morning of the game.

But it meant everything to the Smyrna High softball coach when she realized why her players were wearing the purple ribbons in their hair for Smyrna’s DIAA state title game with Appoquinimink two weeks ago.

The ribbons were to remember the Eagles’ former coach — and Shirey’s father — Donnie Shaner, who’s favorite color was purple. Shaner died in 2016 after stepping down as coach because of illness.

Smyrna won the title game, 16-7, to earn the program’s first state crown since 1993.

“I know how happy he would be,” Shirey said about her dad. “He wanted this so badly for the girls, too. They definitely played for him, as well.

“The seniors were the last group that he coached before stepping down when he got sick. It really did mean a lot to the seniors.”

Smyrna also has posters around its dugout with Shaner’s picture and some of his favorite slogans, like ‘Play for the name on the front (of the jersey),’ and ‘Grass stains and dirt.’

“They could definitely tell you all his sayings.” said Shirey.

For Shirey, winning the program’s first title in a quarter century was also special because she and two of her assistant coaches — Jennifer (Chase) Hall and Kelly (Lloyd) Roscoe — were all members of that ‘93 Smyrna squad. Shirey was only an eighth-grader in ‘93 but was eligible for the varsity because Smyrna’s junior high was in the same building with the high school then.

“It all came back to me, as well as Jen and Kelly,” Shirey said about being back in the finals. “We reminisce about it. All the feelings that come back with (coach) Jo Carter and everything, it was definitely a great feeling. It brought back a lot of great memories.”

A title for Cape, too

Coach Ben Evick talks to his Cape Henlopen players. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Ben Evick never even got to play in the state tournament when he was in high school.

So imagine the thrill for the Cape Henlopen High grad when he got to coach the Vikings to their first state in the sport this week.
“It really was a surreal feeling to finally be able to win a state title for my alma mater,” said Evick, who graduated from Cape in 1995. “It was very emotional for everyone involved.

“I never even got to play in the state tournament so that was part of my desire when I came back to build a program that was going to compete every year for a conference championship and give us a shot at the state title.”

As a school, Cape Henlopen has now won state championships in 13 different sports (or categories of sports).

Considering the Vikings lost twice in the state quarterfinals and once in the finals, Cape didn’t just win its baseball state crown overnight.

“The kids and coaching staff has put so much time into the program with the ultimate goal of winning it all,” said Evick. “We had a great group of players that bought in completely and understood their roles and worked together as a team to make this dream a reality.”

Same champs, different years

So, with the 2017-18 school year ending last Monday, here’s some DIAA state championship numbers to consider.

Salesianum won the most state titles with five while Padua won four. Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen and Tatnall all won three.
All told, Henlopen Conference schools captured 12 state crowns compared to 20 for New Castle County schools.

A total of 17 different schools took home state championships.

What’s interesting, though, are some of the numbers within the numbers.

Consider that just one traditional New Castle County public school — A.I. duPont in boys’ Division II track & field — won a state title this past school year.

Then there’s the fact that 17 of this year’s 32 team state champions were repeat winners.

This is becoming a state where dynasties are the rule, not the exception.

Salesianum, the all-boys Catholic school in Wilmington, currently dominates four different sports: Boys’ Division I cross country (43 titles in the last 49 years); Division I boys’ soccer (15 titles in the last 17 years); Boys’ swimming (27 titles in the last 31 years); and Boys’ lacrosse (9 titles in the last 12 years).

Padua, the all-girls Catholic school in Wilmington, has impressive runs going in Division I girls’ soccer (9 titles in 13 years), Division I girls’ track & field (10 titles in the last 16 years) and girls’ indoor track & field (6 in a row).

And no one can keep up with Tatnall’s distance runners where the Hornets have won 14 straight state titles in Division II girls’ cross country and 12 of the last 15 titles in Division II boys’ cross country.

Tatnall girls’ streak of 14 state crowns in a row is the second-longest run in modern state history. Only Sallies’ run of 16 straight state championships in boys’ cross country (1972-87) is longer.

Among public schools, really the only current dynasties are at Milford, where the Buccaneers have won five straight Division II wrestling team titles, and at Cape Henlopen, where the Vikings have taken 10 straight girls’ lacrosse state crowns and field hockey (now Division I) where Cape has won six crowns in the last seven years.

There are 12 sports in the state where the same school has currently won at least three titles in a row and 11 more where the same school has won two of the last three crowns.

So if you want to start predicting next school year’s state champions, last year’s winners are a good place to start.

Odds & ends

Mike Drass’ widow and daughter, Laurie and Molly, received a standing ovation when they accepted Drass’ football Coach of the Year award at the New Jersey Athletic Conference awards brunch last week.

Also at the event, Wesley College running back E.J. Lee was presented with his NJAC Offensive Player of the Year award while new head coach Chip Knapp accepted the Wolverines’ team trophy for capturing the league’s third straight league title.

• There’s plenty of high school all-star games on tap this week.

On Tuesday evening, the Blue-Gold All-Star Baseball Game will be played at Frawley Stadium at 6 p.m. with the Blue-White Lacrosse All-Star Games being played at Dover High. The girls’ game begins at 6 p.m. with the boys’ contest to follow at 8 p.m.

On Wednesday evening, the Blue-Gold All-Star Softball Game will be played at Dover Little Legaue.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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