For the past few seasons the Smyrna field hockey were knocking on the door of the postseason only to come up just short of their goal after consecutive eight-win seasons.
Heading into their final game of the regular season, the Lady Eagles remained on the playoff bubble, just a loss away from yet another 8-6-1 finish. In a game they practically had to have against an equally tough Middletown squad, senior Madeline Wilber tallied the overtime winner helping Smyrna gut out a huge 2-1 overtime victory.
A few days later, when the DIAA tournament brackets were released, Smyrna received the eighth and final playoff spot.
“The girls knew coming into the season that they had to hit at least nine to 10 wins to secure a top eight spot in Division I,” said Smyrna Head Coach Nicki Shirey. “The Henlopen Conference has some of the toughest competition in the state but they had no doubts they could get it done this year.
“Just missing the tournament by fractions of points the past two seasons made them even more determined to put in the work - hearing the official word on making the top eight has energized the team to a new height.”
Smyrna’s strength this season has been their balance, as a dangerous offense seemed to have a different stand out each game while their defensive effort remained consistent throughout the year.
Led by senior Madison Steele, the Lady Eagles kept 14 of their 15 opponents to two goals or less, holding six off the score sheet completely.
Offensively, 10 different players scored goals this season for Smyrna and two players finished in double-figures.
Junior Alexis Moore led the team with 12 goals, followed closely by senior Julie Snow with 11. Junior Jessica Bergold and freshman Madison Simpson both finished with six goals on the season, while Wilber and Steele both had four goals apiece.
While finally reaching the state tournament is a huge moment for the players who’ve helped the program rise, as the No. 8 seed the Lady Eagles head into the opening round Thursday with the unenviable task of taking on the tournament’s No. 1 seed and defending Division I state champion, Cape Henlopen.
Cape was once again a standout among the state’s best, finishing the year 14-1 overall with their only loss coming to defending Division II champion, Delmar.
The Lady Vikings were nearly unbeatable this season, backed by an offense that scored 72 goals on the year. Cape was just as tough on the defensive end, allowing just five goals against with three of them coming in one game against Delmar.
Taking on the No. 1 seed would be a tall task for any team, however, Smyrna does have a matchup just a few weeks ago against Cape to look back upon.
Cape won 12 of their 14 games by three or more goals this season; one of the matchups where they failed to win by three or more goals came back in late October against the Lady Eagles. Smyrna hung tough with Cape as the teams remained knotted up at 0-0 at halftime before the Lady Vikings scored two unanswered goals in the second half to earn a 2-0 victory.
“Taking the loss a few weeks ago to Cape was hard at first, but that feeling didn’t last - literally no more than a few minutes after the game,” Shirey said. “They didn’t waste any time getting back up and brushing themselves off to prepare to face them again.
“They know exactly what they needed to fix and will be working and preparing all week for this opportunity.”
After a season full of challenges, the Lady Eagles will embark on their biggest challenge yet this Thursday afternoon.
The No. 8 Smyrna Eagles will travel to No. 1 Cape Henlopen in the quarterfinal round of the DIAA Field Hockey State Tournament beginning at 4 p.m. on Thursday.