Senators excited with their 2-0 start

Dover High senior Jenri Lopez-Matias likes the Senators’ new attitude in boys’ soccer this fall. Delaware State News file photos

DOVER — For several years now, Dover High’s boys’ soccer players have felt like they’ve been digging out of a hole.

The Senators have finished with some OK records.

But they always seem to bury themselves with some early-season losses first.

So to be undefeated right now — even at just 2-0 — is a pretty good feeling for Dover’s veteran players.

“Amazing, honestly,” senior defender Eric Cortes said after the Senators blanked Laurel, 7-0, on Tuesday. “Dover’s different this year.”

It’s the first time Dover has started the season with back-to-back victories since 2013, which is also the last time the program reached the DIAA Division I state tournament — or even finished with a winning record.

The Senators (1-0 Henlopen North), who face a test today when they go to Polytech for a 5:30 p.m. Henlopen North matchup, are in their second season under coach James Toe.

It took a little while for the Senators to adjust to playing for the former Woodbridge High assistant. Really, though, they started turning things around last fall.

After an 0-4 start last season, they posted six wins and a pair of ties in their final 11 contests to finish 6-7-2. And their two losses in that span were by just one goal each to Middletown and Caesar Rodney.

“At the beginning of last season I was still getting used to the guys and teaching them my system,” said Toe. “I started building up by the end of the season. We had a good winter. In indoors, we were champs, In summer league, we were champs. So I knew we going to be heading for a good one this season.”

The Senators lost their three 2019 all-Henlopen North honorees to graduation and have only five seniors on this year’s roster. The chemistry seems to be working, though.

Cortes said they know what Toe expects of them now. A native of Liberia who grew up in Brooklyn, Toe has a background in the U.S. military.

Sophomore Alex Escalante-Diaz is a returning player for the Senators this season.

“He’s had a very big impact on us,” said Cortes. “The mentality with other coaches is, ‘Keep your heads up.’ But, with Toe, he demands it.”

“It’s about making every player feel like, ‘You have a role to play,’” said Toe. “And if you teach them how to play their role, the rest comes.”

Cortes remembers a team meeting the squad had midway through last season as a turning point.

“He (Toe) said we can either turn it around or keep going downhill,” said Cortes. “That’s what we did — we turned it around. There were close games but we kept our heads up and fought.”

“I like the vibe,” said senior forward Jenri Lopez-Matias. “It’s different from last year, of course. Everyone’s cheering everyone up. If you make a mistake, everyone’s like, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK. Next time.’

“We came in with confidence. It’s like, ‘We got this.’ We’re not the same as last year. It (being 2-0) is a good start. It feels great. You feel like we’ve got that potential for the rest of the season.”

The Senators’ 3-1 victory over Sussex Tech in their season opener marked the program’s first victory over the Ravens since 2011.

But Dover has some bigger challenges still ahead of it.

The Senators host perennial state power Salesianum on Nov. 7. Dover hasn’t faced the Sals since falling to them in the 2007 state tournament.

Then, on Nov. 17, the Senators host Henlopen North rival CR, a team Dover hasn’t beaten since 2010 when it last won the Henlopen North title.

For the time being, the Senators still don’t think people expect them to be contender. Ultimately, though, they’d like to get the program back in the state tourney.

“I think these teams underestimate us,” said Lopez-Matias. “It’s ‘just Dover,’ you know? I’m looking forward to winning games and showing people that we can play.”

“Everyone wants playoffs this year, that’s the big thing,” said Cortes. “Being the underdogs, I love that feeling — because they go home sad and we come back home proud.”