Panthers out to build off last year’s success

Polytech soccer team going through drills at the school Tuesday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

WOODSIDE — One goal would have been huge.

One goal might have pushed the Polytech High boys’ soccer program up one more rung on the ladder of respectability.

Instead, though, it was fourth-seeded Wilmington Charter that came up with that one goal — on a penalty kick in overtime — to edge the No. 5 Panthers, 1-0, in the DIAA Division I state quarterfinals last fall.

Polytech’s players know a statement win was within their grasp.

“I mean the fact that we couldn’t put it all together for one goal, the whole game. …” said senior midfielder Jacob Merkle. “We played a great game. But we couldn’t get everything going at the same time to pull off one goal — which is all we would have needed to take that game home. It was frustrating.”

Polytech head soccer coach Shaune Gorman during practice Tuesday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Still, it was a good season for the Panthers, who finished 10-3-3. That was more than the combined nine victories they’d put up in their two previous seasons.

The problem is that Polytech graduated a big senior class of 12 players. But this year’s Panthers think they have enough returning talent that they don’t have to take a big step back.

“We’re always trying to earn respect — always trying to show we can play,” said Dermot Williamson, a senior midfielder from Frederica. “Obviously there’s different ways to do that. But going to the tournament last year as a fifth seed was a big thing for us.

“Now we just want to want to keep it up. We know we can play, we’ve just got to show others now.”

Polytech soccer player Dermot Williamson during practice workout Tuesday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Polytech has had good runs before. Between 2014-16, they won a three-season total of 34 games.

Notching the program’s first state tourney victory is one of the big things that the Panthers are still trying to accomplish.

Williamson is one reason that Polytech is optimistic about this group. A year ago he was a first-team All-State pick.

Junior Kade Seip also returns after making second-team all-Henlopen North as a sophomore while Merkle made honorable mention all-conference.

Senior midfielder Ty Sabanayagam, though, says the Panthers’ success doesn’t come from having a lot of star players. It’s always been more about playing as a team.

Polytech allowed only nine goals in its last 12 games last season. That included just a 1-0 loss to Henlopen North champion Caesar Rodney and a 1-1 tie with South winner Indian River.

“We lost like nine starters,” said Sabanayagam, who is from Dover. “So we’ve really got to work with upcoming JV players and returning varsity bench players and bond with them. We’re really a team with no one individual player standing out.

“It’s loads of fun just playing with this team, no matter what the score is. The main thing Coach wants is to not necessarily beat every team 10-0 but get that result, get the win.”

Despite losing a big class to graduation, coach Shaune Gorman points out there’s still nine seniors on this year’s squad. Gorman was the Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year last fall.

He said he likes the big group of varsity players he has this season. Gorman said that group usually includes no more than 14 players but this year there are 18 solid players competing for playing time.

“Every year you come in with the mindset that you want to improve each and every year,” he said. “Obviously last year wasn’t the ending that you want … but if you can finish in the top two or top three in the conference and get in the state tournament, you can really make anything happen. You want to be rolling at the right time.”

Polytech opens the season with a tough game at Indian River next Tuesday at 6 p.m. Its one game outside the conference is against Caravel.

The Panthers would love to pick up where they left off last season. They know that won’t be easy.

“I feel like we’re always overlooked,” said Williamson. “But it’s fun when you’re the underdog and you come out and win the game.”

“It was a great learning experience,” Merkle said about last season. “For all of that played, it was a great experience to actually make it into the state tournament. So many teams each year don’t make it.

“We’ve got some good returning players who want to see it happen again.”