Polytech hockey seniors hope this can be their year

Polytech field hockey players during practice on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

WOODSIDE — In the end, Polytech High’s field hockey players didn’t get what they wanted.

But from a two-goal regular-season loss to Cape Henlopen to a 1-0 setback to the Vikings in the DIAA Division I state semifinals, the Panthers felt like they’d gotten closer.

“We saw a big difference,” said Polytech senior Claire Fuchs. “Everybody was just giving it their all. It was much better than the first time around.”

Now the Panthers want to see if they can close the gap even more between themselves and the top teams in the state.

Polytech field hockey head coach Torrie Huk takes the temperature of one of her players before the start of practice at Polytech on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The good news for Polytech is that it lost just three seniors from last year’s 11-5-1 squad. This year’s roster includes seven seniors as well as four of the five players who earned all-Henlopen Conference Northern Division honors last fall.

With Torrie Huk now in her second season as the Panthers’ coach, there’s definitely the feeling that they can pick up where they left off.

“This team has grown up with each other,” said Huk. “They’ve played for a while now. It’s exciting to see that they’re all back together playing.

McKinley Boyce takes a shot on goal during Polytech field hockey practice on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I think they’ve matured. We had a great group of leaders last year. However, I think this group of seven right now, they’re all leaders — which is really hard to come by. I’m just really excited to have the team mature and develop and become leaders.”

Midfielder Mairead McKibbin, a senior, was a first-team Division I All-State pick a year ago. She was joined on the first-team All-North squad by junior Megan Popp.

Senior Casey Talamini-Kelemen was a second-team all-North defender with Fuchs making honorable mention.

Even when they were only freshmen, McKibbin said she can remember this group talking about their senior season.

“We were always excited about our senior year,” she said. “We just have that chemistry and connection.

“I thought with a new coach, just coming out here with a fresh start, we did really well (last year).”

Of course, any team with dreams of winning the Henlopen North or challenging for a Division I state title will probably have to get past Cape Henlopen.

Besides South power Delmar, the Vikings have lost to only one other Henlopen Conference team — Dover in 2017 — since 2010.

Huk, though, doesn’t want her players’ sole focus to be on beating just one team. The Panthers host Cape on Nov. 19 in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

“Yes, they’ve always been at the top in our conference and they win state championships,” said Huk, who played at Sussex Tech. “However, it’s just whatever team comes that day. I think that if we show up, if we do things a little neater and better, we could have won.

“Every day I just really want to work on them getting better as a team and not really focusing on one team.”

“We just focus on ourselves really,” said McKibbin, who is from Magnolia. “We take one team at a time and our conference is really good. We’re kind of excited to just get out of there and start playing.”

The fact is, the Panthers know they better show up to play every day. They face 12 games in just over a month with eight of those opponents having made the state tournament last season.

Polytech’s lone non-Henlopen foe this fall is Caravel.

Last season, the Panthers had eight games decided by just one goal plus a scoreless tie with Lake Forest.

Polytech’s players know the condensed season will be over in the blink of an eye.

The Panthers open their schedule on Oct. 20 by hosting Indian River, a Division II state finalist last year.

“I think coming back this year, everybody’s ready to go, ready to jump in as long as it’s been since we’ve played,” said Fuchs, who lives in Felton. “It’s going to fly by. We cannot wait for the first game. We cannot wait to get started.”

“Our game faces are already on,” said McKibbin. “It’s exciting, especially senior year, just getting out there, giving it our all, leaving everything out on the field.”