Milford field hockey off to strong start

MILFORD – They had done just about everything they could to win the game – but didn’t.

Accepting their 3-2 overtime loss to second-seeded Wilmington Christian in the first round of the DIAA field hockey state tournament clearly wasn’t easy for the players on Milford High’s squad last fall.

The 15th-seeded Buccaneers were leading 2-1 when the Warriors tied it on a goal that Milford thought came from outside the circle with about 10 minutes left in regulation.milford-field-hockey-hayden-shockley

“It was just really disappointing because we worked so hard to get there,” said senior midfielder Hayden Shockley. “That was the best game we played all season. Just to lose in that last minute of overtime was heartbreaking, honestly.”

“We never want to walk off the field feeling like that,” said senior defender Katelyn Melvin. “That’s a big motivation for every game we step on the field now.”

The results speak for themselves.

After winning nine of their final 12 regular-season games to make the state tourney a year ago, the Bucs are 4-0 right now. Milford has already topped two programs it hasn’t beaten in a while – Sussex Tech and Polytech – by a combined score of 9-1.

The Bucs have another big Henlopen Conference today at 7 p.m. at Dover.

Considering Milford lost only one senior from last year’s squad, coach Andrea Fleming thought the Bucs really had a chance to pick up where they left off.

As much as that tourney loss hurt, it was also a confidence-builder for the Bucs.

“That tournament game gave them a true taste of the capability and the potential that they actually have,” said Fleming, a former Milford standout player herself. “I just told them that we planted our seeds for next year.

“We know what it’s like now. You have the confidence in yourself, you see how you can play. This (loss) just has to be our motivation to work hard in the off-season. And that’s what they did.”

“Honestly, at the end of that game, I was already thinking about next year,” said Shockley. “We have the same team. … We all just play together. We’re like a family.”

Among the returning players are seven Bucs who earned All-Henlopen South honors last season. The first-team selections who are back include senior Rajene Bowe on offense, junior midfielder Darby Brennan and Melvin on defense.

Bowe has a team-high nine goals this season followed by senior Megan Fry with six and senior Daphne Leighty with four. Fry (offense), Shockley and senior Margaret Sollie (defense) were all second-team All-South picks while Leighty made honorable mention.

Milford has outscored its first four opponents by a combined 21-1.

The Bucs’ 4-1 victory over Polytech on Tuesday marked the first time they’ve beaten the Panthers since 2009. It had been longer than that since Milford beat Sussex Tech, which it blanked 5-0 last Thursday.

Of course, playing in the Henlopen Conference, the Bucs still have to face perennial state contender Delmar (at home on Oct. 18) and five-time defending state champion Cape Henlopen (in Lewes on Oct. 25).

But Milford has a strong belief in its ability this season. The nine seniors on the squad have been playing together since they were in sixth grade.

The Bucs are also well aware that this is the 20th anniversary of Milford winning its one state title in field hockey in 1996. It might even be that long since the Bucs have gotten past the first round of the state tournament.

“Obviously we know that they (Cape and Delmar) are better than teams that we’ve played,” said Shockley. “But it just pushes us harder and makes go harder in practice.

“I think this is our year. … When we go hard in practice, even though you want to quit sometimes, you’ve just got to think, ‘We can go so far this year.’”

“We know we have some big games ahead so we can’t let any games go by thinking that they’re small or easy or anything like that,” said Melvin. “Every practice is to get to that end goal. We’re not there yet.

“We definitely know where we want to go this year. After that state tournament game we were back in the weight room, back on the field in the spring. … We like looking at that banner down there for 1996.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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