Polytech soccer in contention for North title

WOODSIDE — A year ago, the Polytech High boys’ soccer program put together the best season in its history.

So, naturally, there were doubters.

“I play travel with a bunch of kids up north,” said Panthers’ goalie Griffin Ott. “They’d be like, ‘Polytech? We’ll see when next year rolls around.’”

But here it is, next year, and Polytech has picked right back up where it left off last fall.16dsn Polytech vs ST Soccer 001

After going 11-5 and making the DIAA Division I state tournament for the first time in 2014, the Panthers have already bettered that record with the gaudy 12-1 mark they currently own.

And more than that, after toppling Sussex Tech, 4-0, last Thursday, Polytech can call itself a legitimate contender for the Henlopen Conference Northern Division title.

The Panthers (3-1), Caesar Rodney (3-1), Cape Henlopen (3-1) and Sussex Tech (2-1-1) all have just one North loss going into the final stretch of the regular season. Polytech hosts Sussex Central today at 6 p.m. before finishing its schedule with a 6 p.m. showdown at Caesar Rodney on Tuesday.

Ott said it’s fun just being in the mix this late in the year.

“It’s definitely so exciting,” he said. “Three of my four classes are with (teammate) Jankiel (Drane). And every day in class we’re like, ‘Let’s check the standings, let’s check the standings.’ It’s nice to see us up at the top. It’s just a great feeling.

“It felt great,” the senior said about beating Sussex Tech. “That has to be the biggest win we’ve got all season. It was a game we had to win if we wanted to be up there at the top of the standings in the state and in the conference. We needed that win.”

“My freshman year, if you said we’d be 12-1, I would look at you twice,” said Drane. “Every day, we always look at the standings — after every game. We even have teachers getting involved in it.

“It’s really great hearing about it. It’s awesome.”

The fact that the Panthers are good again this season didn’t really come as a surprise to the players. They lost just one starter from last year’s squad and have six seniors on this year’s roster.

Among that senior class is midfielder John Riggins, who was a first-team All-North selection last year, and center back Brandon Belile, a second-team All-North pick. Ott was a first-team All-North goalie last season.

So far this season, Polytech has already beaten two teams it lost to last season — Delaware Military and Sussex Tech. The Panthers’ 4-0 victory over Sussex Tech was an eight-goal difference over last year’s 5-1 loss to the Ravens.

“Last year they started to believe and this year they just picked up where they left off,” said coach Ray Ott.

“I think the mix on the team is very good between talent, hard work and leadership. I think every high school team needs a mix of strong leadership and I think we’ve got it. I think also that all of them are committed to the program now and that’s been a big part of the success.”

Polytech’s only loss this season was a 3-0 setback against Cape Henlopen on Sept. 24. The Panthers have posted six shutouts while Drane has netted a team-high 15 goals.

Last Saturday, Polytech was tied with Milford when Drane tallied three goals in a six-minute span late in the contest to give the Panthers a 5-2 victory.

“When it was 2-2, we were like, ‘Man, this is really happening,’” said Drane. “We had to turn it up — and we turned it up in the second half. It definitely woke us up.”

“That’s what good teams tend to do,” said Griffin Ott. “We went down (against Milford) and we realized, ‘Look, if we don’t win this game, we’re going to slip up in the (state tournament) standings. This is a must-win.’

“And it’s not something you need to meet at halftime and talk about. We knew right then, when it was 2-2, we need to turn it up now. Now that we’re older and we have some more leadership, we know.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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