Improving Panthers eye successful soccer season

CR’s Macy Ramsey, center, battles against Polytech’s Jenna McDuff, left, and Jennah Morris in the first half at CR. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

WOODSIDE — It may have been the best loss the Polytech High girls’ soccer program has ever had.

The Panthers came just five minutes away from tying perennial Henlopen Conference power Caesar Rodney.

And even though the Riders finally won 3-2 in overtime, Polytech’s players couldn’t help but feel like they had proven something.

After all, CR usually dominates the Panthers, beating them by a combined 24-3 in the last three seasons.

“I was surprised how well we did,” said junior forward Paxton McGinnity. “I mean we’ve lost to them like 9-0, 9-1 every year in the past.

“We have girls on our travel team (from CR) and they’re still talking about it.”

But that hard-fought loss, on March 29, hardly seems like a fluke for Polytech.

Two days before the CR game, the Panthers knocked off Henlopen South power Indian River 1-0, in OT. IR had crushed Polytech, 9-0, last May.
It may have been the first time the Panthers had beat the Indians.

CR’s Megan Powers, right, brings the ball up field against Polytech’s Paxton McGinnity in the first half at CR. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

As the Panthers (0-1 North, 2-1 overall) get ready to host Dover on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., they really feel the sky’s the limit now.

“I like to keep an open mind, but I was thinking it would probably be the same as last year,” senior Devon Ott said about this season. “But there’s been some good signs so far.

“I think it’s honestly the energy. In the past, we haven’t had the excitement that we really love soccer. We’re not scared of a team if their record is a lot better than ours. We’re still going to try our best.”

“It opened our eyes to see what we could do this season,” said sophomore defender Jenna McDuff. “We have to build on it and win more games.”

The turnaround really started last spring under first-year head coach Shaune Gorman.

The Panthers went 10-7 after winning three of their last four regular-season games. They made the DIAA state tournament for the first time since 2013, losing to eventual Division I state champion Middletown, 6-1, in the quarterfinals.

Maybe most importantly, though, Polytech won with a number of underclassmen on the field. McGinnity and McDuff were both first team all-North picks last spring.

The Panthers still have only four seniors on this year’s roster: Ott, Mia Davis, Madelynne Harrison and Keslie Salazar.

“Physically and mentally, it’s probably the most prepared team that I’ve had in the four years I’ve been around the program,” said Gorman. “It’s been a good couple weeks.

“You try to explain to them that it’s a huge accomplishment from where we’ve been as a program recently. Especially having a young team, they understand that there’s a bright future. Being able to compete with a team like that (CR) means that we should be able to compete all year.”

It helps that a nucleus of Polytech’s young players are members of the Coastal travel team, which is based at the DE Turf Complex in Frederica. Five Panthers play year-round with the club and were teammates on other teams in the past.

“My freshman year, there were like two travel people (on Polytech’s team),” said McGinnity. “Now we have six. Travel or not, we’re super serious about soccer. I like that we’re all focused.”

Now the goal for Polytech’s players is to hold on to their new-found confidence.

After Dover, the Panthers face tests against Delmar and Delaware Military next week. Polytech’s players would like to return to the state tournament and try to go farther this time.

“The girls are really excited this year,” said Ott. “We’re pretty optimistic.

“We always kind of feel like the underdogs. But I guess that just gives us more energy. You’ve got nothing to lose really. Last year I was surprised just to make it to the state tournament. Now we definitely want to make it again.”

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