New coach, new outlook for Dover soccer

DOVER — After three straight losing seasons, the players on Dover High’s boys’ soccer team understand that no one sees them as a contender.

But that’s fine with the Senators.

“That’s exactly what we want,” said senior Jonathan Kuntzi. “They’re shaking their head. That’s where we’re going to step up.”

Despite going just 2-13 a year ago, Dover’s players think they’re not that far from turning things around.

They also have a new outlook after Michael Denman was hired as the Senators’ head coach earlier this summer.

Dover opened its first preseason camp on Tuesday under the 27-year-old Denman, who is also the Senators’ head coach in boys’ lacrosse.

Dover High School’s new head coach Michael Denman gives Tyrique Thom instruction during soccer practice at Dover High School on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

A soccer player at Caesar Rodney High, this is Denman’s first time coaching the sport.

The players think the challenge of proving themselves to a new coach is good for them.

“It reinitiates the idea that no one’s position is secure,” said senior Harry Cooke. “With a new coach comes a whole new lineup basically. Everyone’s out here working even harder because you’re coming in with no assurance that you have a position.”

“It’s like a clean slate for everyone,” said Kuntzi. “I like it. I think a lot of kids will be able to utilize that in a good way.”

Dover’s players say they like the fact that Denman has been successful with the Senators’ lacrosse program.

Jonathan Kuntzi works on passing the ball during soccer practice at Dover High School on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

In three seasons, he’s led Dover to three straight DIAA state tournament appearances and an overall record of 30-19.

Senior goalie Sean Quirk says he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far from Denman.

“I think he brings new energy to this program,” said Quirk. “Just new ideas and more energy, I think, which is good for us.”

“There’s going to be a learning curve but I’m open to the challenge,” said Denman. “We’re surrounded by a very strong staff (assistants Evan Lee and Robert Clark) — a staff that’s been here for a while — so I’m not worried about it at all.”

Harry Cooke works on passing the ball during soccer practice at Dover High School on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Assistant coach Evan Lee gives instructions during Dover High School soccer practice at Dover High School on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I’m excited to see what he’s got to bring to the table,” said Kuntzi. “A new set of eyes on everything will be nice to see. The fact that he’s got a proven track record (in lacrosse), we’d like to get excited about that.”

Denman knows this group of players is hungry to become a winner again.

The Senators have gone just 12-33 since making the DIAA Division I state tournament in 2013. That includes last season’s 2-13 mark.

At the same time, Dover lost seven games by just one goal a year ago.

“I told them coming into it, we’ve got to keep our focus,” said Denman. “We refuse to have a 2-13 season again. It’s not going to happen.
“We’ve got a good group of returning guys. All good kids. They’ve got a really good work ethic and I think they’re going to be fine.”

“You take those one-goal losses and turn them into one-goal wins,” said Cooke, “and your record all of a sudden turns around.”

Dover High School’s new soccer head coach Michael Denman. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Senators open their 15-game schedule on Sept. 12 with a contest against Sussex Academy. They play five of their first seven contests on the road.
Right now, Dover’s players can’t help but think things will be different this season.

“Change is always good when it comes to sports,” said Cooke.

“I think it’s a growing process,” said Quirk. “I definitely think there’s some lessons that a lot of us upperclassmen have learned throughout the years — how to work together, how to deal with those challenges that we faced and how to overcome them.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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