Smyrna volleyball is right back on track

Smyrna senior Sophia Basler said she likes this year’s 16-player squad, which includes seven seniors but also some talented younger players. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — Things were clearly not normal when Smyrna High began pre-season volleyball practice this year.

For one thing, it was late September and they were just starting.

Then there was the fact that the Eagles were working out in a field because the gym hadn’t been OK’d yet by state health officials.

Hannah Osborne remembers being a little unsure how long they’d have to stay outside.

“I didn’t know, I was kind of concerned,” said the senior setter. “I was like, I really hope we’re going to be allowed to move inside soon. Because outdoor is completely different than indoor — the sun, the wind, all that stuff.”

But now, a few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic-affected season, things are pretty much back to normal at Smyrna.
The Eagles are playing in the gym and they’re winning.

Coming off a couple big Henlopen Conference victories last week. Smyrna is 2-0 in the Henlopen North, 5-0 overall going into today’s 4 p.m. match at Polytech.

Eagles senior setter Hannah Osborne (honorable mention) was an all-Henlopen North selection last fall. Delaware State News file photo

The Eagles have made the DIAA state tournament seven years in a row, and nine times in the last 10 seasons.

Smyrna won both last week’s matches, 3-1. The Eagles lost to IR in last season’s Henlopen Conference championship match and, against the Vikings, they trailed 20-13 in the second set before rallying to win it, 25-22.

“It might sound a little corny, but I think it was a testament to what we do and how our work ethic is in practice — like not quitting and not giving up and staying focused, even when it seemed like we were definitely going to lose that,” Osborne said about the comeback. “I think it definitely says something for who are as a program.”

Coming into the season, the Eagles returned four starters. That included seniors Sophia Basler (first team) and Osborne (honorable mention), who were both all-Henlopen North selections last fall.

Basler said she likes this year’s 16-player squad, which includes seven seniors but also some talented younger players.

“We have a lot of talent that came in,” said Basler. “We have a huge roster this year. Like if something is going on, we have people we can put it and make a difference. I think that’s really good.

“There’s definitely a lot of selflessness on this team. Like everyone’s really willing to do what’s best for everyone else. I think that’s really important.”

“I love how competitive we are,” said junior outside hitter Gianna Romano, another team captain. “We all want the same thing. We all give 100 percent effort into every play we make. … And when we’re down, like at Cape, we’re able to just decide whether we want to win or if we’re going to lose.”

Smyrna head volleyball coach Daniel Wandless. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

In this condensed 12-match season, the Eagles are facing only one team outside the Henlopen Conference. They host Delaware Military on Nov. 16 at 5:15 p.m.

But there’s also a number of competitive teams in the Henlopen Conference this year. Next Tuesday, Smyrna hosts Dover (4-0) — which beat the Eagles last season — as well as still facing matches with Sussex Central (3-1) and Caesar Rodney (3-2).

“It’s awesome,” said Danny Wandless, Smyrna’s 16th-year coach. “Downstate volleyball has grown to where you can’t just walk into a gym and think you’re going to walk out in three sets. Now you have to prepare and play — which I think is great for downstate volleyball.”

Of course, like most fall sports student-athletes, the Eagles are just happy to be playing at all right now.

In a season that started with them practicing outside, they know they can’t take anything for granted.

“We were very grateful when we got to go back inside,” Basler said with a laugh. “I think everyone’s having more fun. We had to go without it for so long. It really brings people together.”

“Honestly, I’m just focused on our next game,” said Romano. “Stuff like that (the state tournament, Henlopen title match), if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m just happy I’m able to play.”

“Playing with masks, obviously, isn’t as fun as playing without them,” said Osborne. “But I’m just glad for the opportunity to have a senior year at all. I really am thankful for all the work they (the district staff) are putting in. And a big part of enjoying it is if we win.”