With this year’s DIAA Division I Field Hockey tournament beginning in seven days, a talented group of teams up and down the state must be trimmed to eight to battle it out for the title.
Vying for a spot in the tournament are the two in last year’s championship game, Sussex Tech and defending champ Cape Henlopen.
The Lady Vikings came into the final week of the regular season leading the Henlopen North, with the Lady Ravens sitting just behind Cape Henlopen.
Last season, Cape Henlopen rose to the No. 2 seed, running the table for another title. Meanwhile, Tech beat the odds, entering as the No. 8 and final seed, upsetting No. 1 Padua in the opening round before eventually making it to the title game.
This season both Cape and Tech sit atop the standings, not only in the Henlopen Conference, but in Division I overall.
In the final week of the regular season, Cape has the state’s best record at 14-1, followed by Padua Academy (13-1), Polytech (12-3), Concord (11-3) and Sussex Tech (11-3).
After rising to the challenge last year as a surprise in the tournament, Sussex Tech won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year.
Tech has been one of Division I’s highest scoring teams, keeping pace with DI leader Cape Henlopen. Defensively they’ve been sharp, with over half of their goals allowed coming in their three losses. Only three teams in DI have allowed fewer goals against this year and Tech’s defensive unit has performed well, posting nine shutouts on the year.
“The team is very excited, motivated and a complete unit,” said Sussex Tech head coach Mia Paltrineri. “They’ve worked so hard; the energy is positive and we hope to continue that.”
Cape ended the season with an impressive 6-0 win over Padua before another shutout victory, 9-0, against Laurel in their finale.
Through a challenging schedule, the Lady Vikings have performed well, sitting atop Division I in goals scored and having given up just three goals against this season, a goal differential of 55.
While Sussex Tech and Cape Henlopen have their eyes on high seeds, the highly competitive Henlopen Conference has more teams who have their sights set on tournament berths.
The Polytech Lady Panthers ended the season 12-3 overall, winning their finale Tuesday against St. Georges Tech. They have some character wins over opponents like Sussex Tech, earning a 3-0 victory, while also playing tough against Cape Henlopen and Delmar, falling in each game by 1-0 scores.
Polytech is always in the mix, fielding strong teams every season. This year’s team might be one of its strongest.
“This year’s team chemistry and work ethic has been one of the best I’ve seen in my coaching career,” said head coach Lynn Richardson. “All the kids are willing to work hard and support each other on and off the field.”
Also hanging around are the much-improved Smyrna Eagles, at 8-5-1. The Lady Eagles have a 2-1 victory over Polytech in their pocket, and strong performances in losses to Sussex Tech and Cape Henlopen.
The Lady Eagles had a tough schedule down the stretch, where they matched up against some of the best from Division I and Division II.
“Playing strong teams to finish out is only going to make the girls play harder heading into the tournament,” said head coach Nicki Shirey. “They would rather have these tough matchups as we prepare for a possible state tourney berth.”
The DIAA Division I Field Hockey tournament begins with the quarterfinals Thursday, Nov. 8.