From the Sports Editor: Cape coach Kesmodel set to exit on top

Cape Henlopen High girls’ lacrosse coach P.J. Kesmodel had several family members, including brother, Robert, left, on hand to see his final game on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Andy Walter)

Cape Henlopen High girls’ lacrosse coach P.J. Kesmodel had several family members, including brother, Robert, left, on hand to see his final game on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Andy Walter)

‘Have you ever been to his house?’ Robert Kesmodel asks a couple of reporters.

You have to see his brother, P.J.’s, dining room table, he tells them.

P.J. would use the table as a makeshift blackboard to diagram up lacrosse plays.

“It’s a pretty big dining-room table,” said Robert. “He’s got a field carved into the dining room table. Because back when he was at Hebron, he’d have all the kids come over and they would sit around the dining room table and he would use nickels, and pennies and things.”

So, no, P.J. Kesmodel is never very far away from the game of lacrosse.

It shows.

On Tuesday night, in what might very well have been his last game as coach, Cape Henlopen High won its eighth straight state crown in girls’ lacrosse with a 16-4 victory over a good Tower Hill squad.

It’s an unprecedented streak in the sport in Delaware.

In his nine seasons since moving from Maryland, the only time the Vikings didn’t win the state crown was in Kesmodel’s first year. They only reached the semifinals that season.

“I screwed up the first year,” he quips.

His record at Cape stands at 144-17-1 with the eight state crowns. And remember, the Vikings hadn’t won any titles before Kesmodel came to town.

That he even got the job was really an accident, too. After coaching in Maryland for four decades (the Mount Hebron program he started was ranked No. 1 in the country from 2003-06), Kesmodel just wanted to lend a hand at Cape.

“I came here to retire,” said the 73-year-old coach. “I never planned on being the head coach. I said, ‘Well, I’ll help out with the team because I have a little knowledge.’

“I figured I’d be a volunteer assistant and I ended up being head coach. I guess it’s worked out pretty well.”

In retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have been surprising. The man really likes coaching lacrosse.

Kesmodel is believed to be the only man to coach both a boys’ and a girls’ program to state championships in lacrosse-rich Maryland. His teams have won a total of 13 state titles and he’s sent over 70 players on to Division I college programs.

Robert Kesmodel, who played at Army himself, flew up from Miami to see his brother’s last game on Tuesday.

He said he asked P.J. once how he was able to win so many games.

“He said, ‘I take an interest in the kids,’” said Robert. “He said, ‘I go to the games, I get to know the parents.’ He said, ‘Then you know the kids, you know what’s going on in their life. When they come to practice and they’re not up, maybe you know why. Or you know how to get them up.’”

At the same time, Robert said P.J. has never been afraid to tell people the way it is. He won’t hesitate to cut players, either.
That’s a trait that doesn’t always endear him to parents.

“They hate him and they love him,” said Robert. “It’s tough but, he says, ‘You don’t win championships by being nice.’ He’s not one of these guys that believes everybody should have a trophy, let’s put it that way.

“There are some people that hate him — I mean I know that and he knows that, too. But he doesn’t care. That’s part of the success that’s he’s had. He doesn’t let things like that bother him. He focuses on what he thinks needs to be done to win the game.”

Clearly, though, Kesmodel is pretty good at winning over people, along with winning games.

A crowd of former players, family members and old friends came out on Tuesday to see his last game. His current players broke into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ for him after the game.

Kesmodel seemed touched by the show of support.

But, while he’s talked about retiring before only to change his mind, he insists that he means it this time.

The funny thing about Kesmodel is that, while he never intended to take over as Cape’s coach, he feels a certain ownership now. He thinks assistant coach Lindsey Eichner is ready to take over.

“I couldn’t find anybody before,” said Kesmodel. “Being honest, nobody wanted to take it. They said, ‘I don’t want the pressure of being the first person to lose.’”

There’s no arguing that P.J. Kesmodel will be a tough act to follow.

Cape Gazette sports writer Dave Frederick has had three granddaughters play for Kesmodel. He doesn’t know if there’s ever been a better girls’ lacrosse coach anywhere.

“The guy’s special,” said Frederick. “I think maybe he’ll go down as the best high school girls’ coach in the country — like ever.”

Odds & ends

• The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association is slated to vote on its new executive director at its annual membership meeting on Thursday.
The candidate will still have to be approved by the Department of Education.

• The Padua girls’ soccer team, which beat Caesar Rodney High, 4-1, for the Division I state title on Friday, outscored its opponents 81-2 in an 18-0 season.

The Riders’ Caitlin Harris can say she was only the only Delaware player to score a goal on the Pandas. It was just the second goal of the season for the senior.

• Even with Salesianum facing Appoquinimink in the boys’ lacrosse state finals on Saturday, there were downstate ties to the game.

The Sals, of course are coached by Dover teachers and Wesley College football assistants Bob Healy and Shawn Plews while former Dover and CR coach John Coveleski is a volunteer assistant for the Jaguars.

• Martin Ingelsby’s first recruit for the Delaware men’s basketball team seems like a pretty fitting one. Like Ingelsby, Ryan Daly was a Philadelphia Catholic League Player of the Year from Archbishop Carroll.

To be fair, former Blue Hen coach Monte’ Ross and his staff had already started recruiting Daly. A 6-foot-4, shooting guard, he averaged 21.7 points as a senior.

• A few years ago, the DIAA began awarding a medal to the top female finisher in the golf state tournament. But that award didn’t have to be given out on Wednesday when Tower Hills’ Phoebe Brinker took home the tourney’s biggest award after becoming the event’s first female winner.

And not only did the eighth-grader win, but Wilmington Charter’s Esther Park and Tower Hill’s Jennifer Cleary also finished in the top five.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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