Polytech girls shake off slow start

Jazmin Kellam (11) and Polytech opened the season with a loss to Cape Henlopen in December. (Delaware State News file photo)

WOODSIDE — On the court, Polytech High only came away with a couple losses.

But, off the court, the Panthers built a new-found sense of togetherness.

In that sense, the holiday-break trip Polytech took to a tournament in Wildwood, N.J. felt like a turning point for Polytech’s girls’ basketball players.

“It definitely brought us together,” said junior co-captain Jazmin Kellam. “We were together the whole time and, from then, every game we’ve been together — joking, laughing, just having fun.”

The results on the court have been three straight victories and a 5-5 record for the Panthers (4-2 North) going into today’s 6 p.m. home game with Dover (4-2 North, 6-2 overall). The Senators won the first meeting in the Henlopen North rivalry with Polytech, 62-43, on Dec. 13.

The Panthers, though, are playing better since starting the season just 1-3. Their first two losses were against defending North champion Cape Henlopen and a St. Mark’s squad that is still unbeaten.

“We started out a little iffy about how the season was going to go,” said junior co-captain Jayla Scott-Cottman. “But, now, as it’s starting to get better, we’re starting to work together and come together as a team and have a positive mindset.”

“They’re more focused,” said coach Kyle Taylor. “Their camaraderie is so much better than it has been. The trip to Wildwood, we think really helped them bond and get together.

“Since we got back, it’s been a whole different team.”

Polytech lost to both Wildwood Catholic and Marple-Newtown, Pa. at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic.

After winning their first two games since then, the Panthers made it three in a row with a memorable 67-61 overtime win over Sussex Tech last Friday. Senior Yaa Yaa Afriyie needed eight points to reach 1,000 for her career and finished with a career-high 33.

The Dover resident, who is averaging 21.5 points per game, is believed to be just the third player in the program’s history to reach 1,000.

“I never actually thought I was going to do it,” said Afriyie. “But the more I started to get closer to it, the more I was just saying, I’ve got to work harder to get it. Hard work paid off.

“Two weeks ago I counted it up and I was like 50 points away. I was like ‘Fifty? That’s nothing.’ We still have 14 games left in the season. I can get that. It was surreal.”

The fact that Polytech won the game, too, was what made the night really special.

“Sussex Tech came out and definitely showed heart,” said Afriyie. “I’ve never actually had an overtime game in all the four years I’ve been here. It was just a really good game. … it was a good fight.”

While Polytech finished 11-9 a year ago, the Panthers haven’t made the DIAA state tournament since 2014. While they’d obviously love to end that streak, Taylor said he still just wants his players to focus on the smaller goals.

“Our mentality is get better every day,” he said. “So after the losses to Cape and St. Mark’s, it was always coming back to, ‘OK, what are we going to do to get better today?’ It was just a matter of working together.”

“Definitely winning is helping us become closer even more as a team,” said Afriyie. “We just want to finish out our season with wins instead of losses.”

Notes

• At 9-2, the Laurel boys’ basketball team has already surpassed last year’s win total in a 6-14 season. After handing Seaford its first loss on Thursday, the Bulldogs (4-1 South) face a big challenge when they host Woodbridge (6-0 South, 8-2 overall) today at 5:45 p.m.

Laurel takes a seven-game winning streak into the Henlopen South showdown.

• The Caesar Rodney girls have won four in a row going into today’s 6:15 p.m. North contest at Cape Henlopen. At 5-3, the Riders need one more victory to match their victory total for last season.

• Smyrna’s boys (7-2) also own a nice winning streak. The Eagles have won five straight games going into today’s 6:30 p.m. game at Milford.

• CR’s boys (6-2) host Cape Henlopen today at 6:15 p.m. but then play six of their next seven games on the road.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com