Vikings seeking Division I field hockey three-peat

-Cape midfielder Abigail Kane runs the ball up the field Saturday morning during Cape’s play day scrimmage against Academy of Holy Cross, from Maryland. (Delaware State News/Ben Heck)

LEWES – It’s a familiar spot for Kate Austin.

After capturing last year’s Division I field hockey state title, the Cape Henlopen High coach lost a strong group of eight seniors heading into this season.

Seven of those eight girls are now playing in college.

It was just a year ago that the Vikings found themselves in the same situation, coming off a state championship season and trying to figure out how to replace the 10 seniors lost from that title team.

In the end it worked out, as the Vikings shut out Padua Academy, 5-0, in the title game at University of Delaware’s Rullo Stadium to repeat as champions last November.

This year’s group of seniors hope to replicate those results as the Vikings seek a DIAA Div. I state championship three-peat. The Vikings’ season begins with a game against Notre Dame Prep, Maryland, at DE Turf Sports Complex on Sept. 6.

Riley Keen, an incoming junior, hits the ball up field during Cape’s play day scrimmage against Academy of Holy Cross. (Delaware State News/Ben Heck)

“It’s sort of the same talk every year, where we lose a really key group of seniors and we lose a lot of All-State players — and sometimes the Player of the Year — and we always have that talk about rebuilding and figuring out everything without them,” Austin explained.

“So, it’s the same thing,” she continued. “Last year we were pleasantly surprised, and this year we’ve been pleasantly surprised. It always works out in the end.”

Seven of last year’s nine juniors have returned for their senior season.

Incoming sophomore Noelle Sabbagh runs the ball down field against Academy of Holy Cross. (Delaware State News/Ben Heck)

With one of those seven girls injured, six of them — Cameron Smith, Anna Stancofski, Alexandra “LeeLee” Wilson, Isabella Conte, Marlee Geppert and Abigail Kane — will be on the roster at the beginning of the season.

Emily Monigle, a First Team All-State midfielder as a sophomore last year, leads the junior class, which consists of a mix of varsity returners and junior varsity call-ups who will be getting their first taste of varsity hockey this season.

The sophomore class is led by a group of four girls — Samantha Connors, Ella Rishko, Reagan Ciabattoni and Noelle Sabbagh – who saw critical playing time on varsity as freshmen last season.

“They’re playing like seniors, all four of them,” Austin said of the sophomore group. “We’re super-excited for them. They’re all great kids, which helps, but now you can just play with relief. It’s not like you’re searching that title out for the first time. You know what it feels like to win, you’ve been in those big pressure situation games and now they just get to have fun.”

Just one freshman, Mackinzie Brown, will likely start the season on the varsity squad.

Cape’s Isabella Conte looks up the field for an open teammate during Cape’s scrimmage against Academy of Holy Cross Saturday morning. (Delaware State News/Ben Heck)

“We have some returners in some really key spots,” said Austin. “Marlee is back in goal, Stancofski on our back line is really helpful — she’s taking over as our communicator this year — so we have some returners in key spots that are helping to set the tone.”

Stancofski is transitioning from left back to center back this season and will see an increased leadership role as one of those key senior players.

“I’ve been at left back for the past three years, and I’m moving to center back now which is a pretty big adjustment,” she said. “I have to become more of a leader and I’m getting more comfortable with it.

“I’m increasing my communication with the mids and the other defenders, and I think it will just keep getting better from here.”

Even after just one week of practices and one play day scrimmage, Stancofski is already noticing some of the younger girls step up into the role left behind by the outgoing seniors.

“At first, before the preseason started, we were all a little concerned about how it would go,” she explained. “We lost eight key seniors that were all big parts of our team, but I think, like the year before, this early in the season we’re already starting to see all three returning grades and even the incoming freshmen are really stepping up.”

Offensively, veteran LeeLee Wilson is one of the key returners at attack. Though she feels the talent is always there, this preseason she’s noticed the team has been working on figuring out who works together the best.

“This year, I feel like we are moving around a lot of girls,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of strong forwards, but I think we’re more trying to figure out who can work with who and which mid-line is going to work best to get the ball from the defense to the forwards.

“The talent has always been there, and the incoming girls are bringing even more talent, so I think we still have it, it’s just going to be an adjustment.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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