Seniors have helped grow Smyrna’s lacrosse reputation

Smyrna midfielder Hayden Compton is one of seven seniors for the Eagles, who went 12-3 this spring. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — Even in just four years, a lot can change.

Hayden Compton recalls when he was a freshman on the Smyrna High lacrosse team, even the basics of the sport were a challenge for some players.

“I remember our JV year, there were literally three kids we could pass the ball to them,” said the senior midfielder.

“All of us have been going to the fields together since we were in eighth grade, trying to get to this point,” he continued. “Now we’re finally here. It’s almost over.”

Where the Eagles are is back in the DIAA boys’ lacrosse state tournament for the third straight season. And, with a record of 12-3, Smyrna is going into the tourney with the nine-year-old varsity program’s best record.

As the 12th seed, the Eagles travel to No. 5 Archmere (11-4) on Wednesday for a 4 p.m. first-round contest. There are four opening-round games tonight and four more on Wednesday with a total of seven downstate squads in the 16-team field.

While Smyrna’s task is still daunting, the Eagles will take it over their recent state tournament challenges.

Each of the last two seasons, Smyrna opened the tourney against eventual state champion Salesianum. Two years before that, the Eagles faced eventual state runnerup Cape Henlopen.

Smyrna lost those three tournament games by a combined 52-6.

So, by comparison, the Eagles can go to Claymont on Wednesday feeling like the prospect of earning the program’s first tourney victory isn’t so far-fetched.

“(Against Sallies) there’s definitely that mentality of like damage control,” said senior defender Jason Kaiser. “It was like, how can we slow them down as much as possible?”

“We worked really hard,” said senior goalie Matthew Miller. “At the beginning of the season, we knew that we didn’t want to play Sallies for the third time in a row. Our main goal was to get a higher seed and we got that.”

One thing Smyrna has going for it is a strong defense. The Eagles allowed only 79 goals this season — with 42 of them coming in their three losses.

They also posted three shutouts.

“Our main goal is always to keep them (the opponent) under a certain amount of goals just so we can keep our goals against average still low,” said Miller, who only started playing goalie as a sophomore. “Even in practice, whenever its offense vs. defense, we’re competitive.”

“Our defense is kind of the backbone of what our philosophy is,” said coach Mike Zulkowski. “We want to play real solid defense, we want to push things in transition and then hopefully the settled offense picks up by the end of the year. We just want to keep the pressure on people at all times.”

Smyrna’s players know that most of the top programs in the state have had lacrosse programs for a lot longer than them.

They also know that beating some good teams and advancing in the state tournament is the only way to gain more respect now.

The Eagles also believe they’ve begun to reap the benefits of the feeder program that was started four years ago. Some of the seven seniors on this year’s roster were products of it.

“We feel like we did really good for the program this year,” said Miller. “We’re just excited to see what happens after we graduate and how they do then.”

“We’ve been developing as a program,” said Kaiser. “This year it’s definitely all come together. My group of seniors, they all started freshman year, JV. This year everyone’s kind of put their skills together and we’re all gelling.”

“It’s so awesome,” said Compton. “I played JV with everybody and now we’re out here starting. … It’s like we’re here but it could be the last game.”

Notes

Third-seeded Salesianum (8-7), which hosts No. 14 Milford (11-6) today at 7 p.m., has won the last four state titles and has reached the state finals for 12 years in a row. … Cape Henlopen beat the Sals, 12-8, on April 12. That was Sallies’ first loss to a Delaware school since 2014, when it fell to Cape, 9-7, in the state title game. … Of the seven Henlopen Conference teams in this year’s state tourney field, only No. 1 Cape goes into its first-round game as the higher seed.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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