After completing the best season in the program's history with a 12-3 record, the Smyrna Eagles will make their third-straight playoff appearance Wednesday in the first round of the DIAA Boys Lacrosse State Tournament.
The Eagles claimed the No. 12 seed in the tournament, drawing Diamond State Conference standout, No. 5 Archmere Academy in the opening round.
After opening the season hot, winning seven straight games, Smyrna also closed out this year’s regular season campaign with another win streak of four games, earning wins over Sussex Central, St. Mark’s, Caravel Academy and St. Georges Tech.
“Closing out the season winning four straight is very important for momentum heading into the playoffs,” said Smyrna head coach Mike Zulkowski. “Spring sports have so many variables that can put additional stress on a program; senioritis, trips and so forth. Our guys have completely bought in and we finished the regular season the right way, there is some room for improvement, but they took care of business.”
Throughout the season, Smyrna’s success has been due to the well-roundedness of the team. Offensively and defensively, the Eagles have been solid.
On the offensive side, Smyrna tallied 179 goals in 15 games. Led by the likes of juniors Hunter McGuire and Ashton Pelton, along with sophomore Jason Zietler and senior Cullen Porter, the Eagles averaged 12 goals per game.
Moving to the other side of the field, Smyrna allowed just 79 goals-against this season, only Charter (76), Mt. Pleasant (76), Delaware Military Academy (72) and Tatnall (65) gave up less.
Goalie Matt Miller was impressive manning the cage this year for Smyrna. With strong defensive effort in front of him, Miller was able to keep 10 opponents on or below Smyrna’s average for goals-against per game of five, shutting out three of them.
Meanwhile, Smyrna’s first round opponent Wednesday afternoon, Archmere Academy, enters the tournament fresh off an 11-4 campaign. The Auks’ performance on the field throughout the season proved they were worthy of a top-five seed.
Archmere has leaned on their seniors, and an experienced offense. However, as the year has progressed, play on both ends of the field have improved.
“I would say that we are a senior-laden group of experienced guys,” said Duncan. “Coming into the year we had more returning on the offensive side of the ball than we did on the back end. On our offense we have a handful of threats in that area and on the defensive end of the ball, I think, while not as experienced, it can be just as strong as the offense.”
The Auks averaged 13 goals per game on offense and allowed just seven goals against on average this year against a highly competitive schedule.
Backed by a strong overall group, Archmere has tallied wins over four tournament teams this year, knocking off No. 6 Tower Hill, No. 8 Delaware Military Academy, No. 11 Charter and No. 16 Appoquinimink.
“Archmere has been a top 10 program for years now,” Zulkowski said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Duncan and what they’ve been able to accomplish. They’re a very experienced team that have high level talent at midfield and attack positions that can present issues.”
“We’re going to continue to coach the fundamentals and situational awareness. Their defense is solid and are always in the right position. We’ll need to play together, fast and fly around in order to compete.”
When it comes to what Archmere knows about Smyrna ahead of Wednesday’s playoff clash, as on the Eagles’ side, there is already a common respect.
“We did scrimmage with Mike’s squad in the preseason, I would venture to say they’ve come a long way since then,” Duncan said. “They’re a very well coached team, I think they have a lot of athletic, tough athletes.
“I think they’ve made the tournament the last several years, I would imagine that they are every bit as experienced as we are. I think they come in motivated to take that next step as a program. I have a lot of respect for their team, the community and their athletic programs. Their coaching staff does a really nice job, to go through 15 games and win 12 of them, you’re doing a good job.”