Young Dover team set for field hockey semifinals

Ally Manifold is one of the few seniors on the Dover field hockey squad.

DOVER — Dover High’s field hockey players thought they were going to hit the ground running this year.

Then the Senators stumbled right out of the gate.

One-goal losses to Lake Forest and Indian River left Dover 0-2 for the second straight season.

“It woke us up for sure,” said sophomore Superia Clark. “It kind of gave us a glimpse of what last year was like. And we did not want to do last year all over again. I guess we got our heads screwed on straight.”

A year ago, with a young squad, Dover finished just 6-7-2.

But this time the Senators took a different path. Two months later, Dover has lost just two more games and finds itself playing to go to the DIAA Division I state championship game.

The sixth-seeded Senators (10-4-2) take on No. 2 Padua (13-3) in the state semifinals today at 4 p.m. at Delaware Military Academy. Top-seeded Cape Henlopen (15-2) faces  No. 4 Polytech (13-3) at Sussex Academy today at 4 p.m. in the other Division I semifinal.

The two winners square off on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Sussex Academy in the state finals.

This is the second time in three years that Dover has played in the semis. In 2017, the Senators lost a tough, 1-0, decision to Sussex Tech.

While Dover has 11 sophomores or freshmen on this year’s squad, it does have a small group of seniors who were on that ‘17 team.

“The whole atmosphere, it was just so electric,” said senior Ally Manifold. “The energy that we got from the school, too, helped us. I really made us want to win for our city.

“No one really thinks of Dover High School as a solid field hockey program so we want to change that. They take notice of you when you win. They start to respect you more.”

“All the girls were devastated when we lost because it was their last time playing,” junior Chelsea Johnson said about the ‘17 loss. “I just remember the adrenaline going down the field. And we had like 25 shots on the goalie and we just couldn’t get it in.”

The younger players on this year’s team weren’t in high school, yet, in 2017. Junior goalie Richana Brown wasn’t even a keeper then.

She was a field player who only switched to the position before last season. Brown, though, understands that this is a big opportunity for the program.

“It’s really exciting but it’s also really stressful,” she said. “It’s like, wow, there’s so much weight on your shoulders because you want to win for your school.”

But being in the Henlopen Conference also means that the Senators have played plenty of tough games all year. Six of the eight remaining squads in the Division I and II semifinals are from the conference — including IR and Lake Forest.

Dover’s only two losses since the opening two games have been to Delmar and Cape Henlopen, the two top seeds and defending state champions.

Coach Denise Kimbro, too, thought those two early losses ended up being a good thing for her players.

“I’m glad we lost the first two games, which got them on the right path,” she said. “It got their attention. They were going to have to work. Because, all summer long, they were successful … and they came in here thinking, ‘We got this.’

“It kind of knocked them down a little bit, but it didn’t kill them. It made them work harder.”

Kimbro doesn’t remember Dover ever playing Padua, which reached the Division I state finals a year ago. The Pandas do have a couple players from Dover in seniors Riley Hickox and Grace Mercer.

Padua’s only losses this fall have been to Polytech, Cape and Delmar.

As this point the seedings don’t really matter, though. The Concord team that the Senators beat in the first round of the tournament was the No. 3 seed.

“I didn’t even realize that Concord was No. 3 until after we played them,” said Clark. “I don’t really pay attention to rankings. We just play them.

“I love my team a lot. We’ve improved so much.”

“Since we have a young team, as the captain, I’m just trying to calm them down,” said Manifold. “I let them know that it’s going to be nerve-wracking, but it’s a fun experience.

“You just want to have fun out there and feed off the crowd’s energy.”

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