Slow start dooms Dover in tourney

Dover’s Kendra Williams spiked the ball with enough force to get over the net and score a point for the Senators. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Eric Riehl knows there’s no shame in losing to a program like Wilmington Charter.

The Dover High volleyball coach just wishes the Senators could have played more like they’re capable of.

Ninth-seeded Dover got off to too slow a start before falling to the No. 24 Force, 3-0, in the opening round of the DIAA volleyball state tournament on Thursday evening.

The Force (6-7), who are only two years removed from winning the state title, took the match 25-10, 25-16, 25-23.

Olivia Czepukaitis of Dover gets under the ball to set it up for teammate Isabelle Newton Thursday night. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Charter will get its chance against another Henlopen North program when it goes to No. 8 Caesar Rodney on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the second round.

It was a tough first set for the Senators (9-4) who trailed only 14-7 before the Force reeled off eight straight points.

“It was mental,” said Riehl, Dover’s first-year head coach. “Everybody has the bad games, you just hope it’s against a team of lesser caliber.

“It is what it is. Those girls handled business all the way to here, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we’re at. We’ve got a good program.”

Sophomore Isabella Newton of Dover goes to the floor for a dig against Charter School. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“I think they had the energy that we didn’t in the beginning,” said junior setter Olivia Anyanwu. “That really brought us down. We needed to start off with the energy that they had.

“It took us two sets (to get comfortable). It was a tough match. But if we had played like we did in the third set, it would have been different.”

The Senators looked like they might extend the match when they jumped out to leads of 10-1 and 14-3 in the third set.

But the Force kept battling. Charter got one its top players, 6-foot Ava MacMurray, back on the floor after Dover’s 10-1 start.

MacMurray served seven straight winning points when the Force took a 20-19 lead. The Senators tied the match three times after that before finally dropping the final two points to lose the match.

“I’m always proud of my team,” said Anyanwu. “There’s always somewhere we can improve but I’m always proud of them. We always fight, I know that.”

Dover’s Kimberly Czepukaitis spikes the ball past two Charter defenders in match Thursday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

This was Dover’s fourth straight winning season and its third state tournament appearance in a row. Volleyball has always been a difficult sport for Henlopen Conference programs to compete for a state title in.

No downstate squad has ever reached the state finals.

With only three seniors on this year’s team in Anna Canalichio, Nyani Scott and Stephanie Toussaint, the Senators are confident that they’re headed in the right direction. Dover is a combined 31-14 over the past three seasons.

“The program still has a ways to go,” said Anyanwu. “But you can see the improvement every year. And i know it’s going to be even better next year.”

“We’re coming back,” said Riehl. “They’re excited and so am I. … I can’t wait until next year.”