Polytech field hockey off to strong start

DOVER — Last season was the year Polytech High was supposed to get knocked down a peg.

After losing some of their top players the year before, there was no way the Panthers were still going to be among the best field hockey teams in the state.

Or, at least, that’s the way it looked.

But Polytech still battled its way through the DIAA state tournament, reaching the semifinals before losing to eventual-state champion Delmar only 2-0.

“Definitely it was a great run — more than I was expecting,” said senior Madison Knight. “As you start out in preseason, certain things, you don’t if they’re going to go right or wrong.

“We really put the team chemistry together. A lot of people had doubts about us and it was nice to prove all those doubts wrong.”

The Panthers were hoping some of that hard-earned confidence would carry over to this season — and so far it has.

Polytech is 6-2, both in the Henlopen Conference and overall going into today’s 6 p.m. showdown at Cape Henlopen (6-2, 8-2). The contest could go a long way in deciding this year’s Henlopen Northern Division champion.

Despite the fact that the Vikings had their 107-game regular-season, in-state winning streak snapped by Dover earlier this season doesn’t make today’s game any less of a challenge for the Panthers.

Polytech has never beaten Cape in field hockey.

“Cape’s still going to be Cape,” said Panthers’ coach Lynn Richardson. “They have a solid nucleus of players and we know they’re going to be well-skilled and well-coached.

“We’ve gone into every game knowing that we could compete. That’s all we can ask for — that when they step on the field, they know they can compete with the person across from them. That’s all we preach.”

Polytech has its own solid group of returning players from last season’s 12-5-1 season. First-team all-North selections Madilyn McKay (offense) and Mackenzie Estrada (midfield), second-team picks Knight (offense) and Cecilia Carter (defense) as well as honorable mention honoree Lacy Baylee are all back.

The Panthers have reached at least the second round of the state tourney in seven straight seasons.

More than anything, Richardson likes the camaraderie of a group that is fairly evenly mixed between age groups.

The Panthers have six seniors but also five freshmen on the roster.

“The team’s really close,” said senior Tara Bond. “We all are closer (to the players at) to our grade levels. But you can pair anyone up with anyone and they’ll all laugh about something. We all know a lot about each other. We all connect well.”

“We just all work really well together,” said Carter. “We’ve kind of made this bond where we don’t even have to talk any more. We can just look up and know where the other person is going to be. We all know how we all play.

“We’ve really bonded with the younger girls, too. They play really well with us.”

Junior Lacy Bayley (6 goals, 2 assists) is Polytech’s leading goal scorer so far with McKay (5 goals, 3 assists), senior Devon Ott (4 goals) and freshman Mairead McKibbin (3 goals, 4 assists) all scoring three goals or more. Junior goalie Holly Rembold has made 48 saves, including 27 in a loss to Delmar.

Of course, one of the big lessons from last year’s state tourney for the Panthers is that a couple losses don’t have to ruin your whole season.

Whatever happens against Cape, today, Polytech’s players know they just have to go back to work.

“Everybody really underestimated us because we lost so many seniors (last year),” said Carter. “Everybody thought that we weren’t going to have a chance, that it was going to be a rebuilding year.

“But I really think that we proved ourselves and that we could play on our own. I really think that we learned from that and now we all know how to play.”

“It gave us confidence that, no matter who we lost or who we bring in, we still have good team chemistry,” Knight said about last season. “We can all work together.

“In my opinion, you always learn from your mistakes. If you look back on games that you think you could have done better on, you can always make changes and adjustments.”

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