Smyrna tops Delmar to win first Henlopen volleyball title

 

SMYRNA — Faced with the same situation a year ago, Smyrna High let down its guard.

The Eagles weren’t about to make the same mistake twice.

This time, after posting a relatively easy first-set win over Delmar, Smyrna was ready for the Wildcats to keep battling.

This time, the Eagles finally won their first Henlopen Conference championship in volleyball after outdueling Delmar, 3-0, on its home floor Monday night.

In a rematch of last year’s title match, Northern Division champion Smyrna won the first set 25-7, before being pushed to the limit in a pair of 28-26 victories over the South champion Wildcats.

The Eagles (14-2) happily celebrated in the middle of the court after the final point as their fans rushed out to celebrate with them.

A year ago, Smyrna won the first set of the championship match, 25-12, only to have Delmar win the next three sets to capture its first conference title in the sport.

“We knew what we were up against this year,” said junior Kylie McCusker. “Last year we kind of walked in and said, ‘Oh, we have this.’ This year it was, ‘We’re going to earn every point.’ I think we did that tonight.

“We told ourselves, ‘It can happen again, so let’s finish it all the way through.’ One of the big things before this game was, ‘Every point. You play every single point until it’s over.’ It was rewarding. It definitely felt like the whole season’s hard work had paid off.”

“It’s amazing,” said Madelynne Rodriguez, the only senior on Smyrna’s roster. “We came in last year and we came up short. It’s great to come back and do what we were supposed to do this time.

“We came here focused. We didn’t overlook anyone this time. We knew what we had to do when we came in this gym. Even though we won that first set, we had to stay just as focused as we did when the game started. Nothing was set after that.”

Despite the margin of the Eagles’ first-set victory, the Wildcats bounced right back in the second set. Trailing 24-20, Delmar (10-6) — with junior Kelsie Hughes serving — reeled off five straight points to take its first lead of the night at 25-24.

This time it was the Eagles who came back and fought off the set point, Smyrna finally posted the 28-26 win on a kill from sophomore Julia Luttrell after a long volley.

In the third set, the Wildcats went up by many as five points. With McCusker serving, however, the Eagles won five points in a row to grab a 20-19 advantage.

Delmar answered with four straight points of its own to take a 23-20 lead. Finally, though, Smyrna tied the set at 23-23 before capturing the 28-26 victory.

The Wildcats’ Sandy Covington, the Henlopen Coach of the Year, was proud of the way her players answered the challenge.

“I was happy that we didn’t give up,” she said. “We passed the ball a little bit better (in the last two sets). In the first game we couldn’t pass the ball at all, couldn’t get anything started.

“They’re definitely disappointed that they lost but showing that they’re not going to give up is a lift going into the playoffs. … I’m sure they didn’t like us coming in and beating them last year and. coming here to their court, we knew it was going to be tough. But it was a good match — the second two games, it was a good match.”

For Smyrna coach Danny Wandless, the title was a long time in the making. The only coach the program has had in its 11-year history, Wandless said the Henlopen championship was just another sign of how far the program has come.

“That was the next step for the program,” he said. “We’ve had successful seasons, we’ve made it to the state tournament, we’ve made it to the second round, but the one thing that seemed to escape us was the conference championship.

“Before the game we talked about visualizing the whole match and seeing it through. When things don’t go our way, don’t break apart as individuals but stick together as a team. I tell you, we came up with some amazing plays towards the end of set two and set three. I’m proud of the girls.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.