The season ended in tears yet again for the Cape Henlopen field hockey team, but this year players and coaches were shedding tears of joy.
After two straight heartbreaking losses to Sussex Tech in the semifinals, the Vikings finally broke through, beating Delmar 3-2 in the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Field Hockey State Tournament championship game Nov. 19 in Milford. For coach Nicole Hughes, it's been four years in the making.
“I'm really proud of my seniors,” she said of the 11 who will graduate this spring. “It's definitely been a wild ride with them. I have so much respect for them. I'm just so happy we could get it done for them.”
The win not only secured the school's third field hockey title, but also capped a perfect 18-0 season. Saturday's win was the only game this year Cape won by less than two goals.
“It's amazing. It's a breath of fresh air,” said senior Jacki Coveleski, who scored 19 goals this season. “This is what I've been working for for four years. It is such a great feeling for it to finally happen.”
Coveleski also contributed 11 assists this season, including one on the first goal of the championship game. After a back-and-forth affair through the first 10 minutes, Coveleski found senior Taylor Trimmer in front of the cage, who beat Delmar goalkeeper Tressie Windsor to break the scoreless tie. Just over three minutes later, senior Alexa Hendrickson scored to give the Vikings a two-goal lead and the momentum.
Delmar had an opportunity to grab back the momentum on a penalty stroke with less than a minute left before halftime. Senior goalkeeper Maddy Meade had a different idea. She stopped a high shot by Delmar senior Caroline Phillips with her blocker and preserved Cape's advantage.
“I've seen a lot of strokes in my life, so all you can do is get ready,” she said.
Meade finished the game with six saves, including a crucial diving save in the second half.
“She got us so pumped,” Coveleski said. “She had a phenomenal game.”
Delmar may have been down, but the team was not out. Six minutes into the second half, Wildcats sophomore Sara Ellis scored on a seeing-eye shot to cut Cape's lead in half. Four minutes later, Delmar senior Samantha Johnson tied the game, which prompted Hughes to immediately call timeout.
“I had some choice words,” she said. “I think some of them needed to hear it because they were letting down a little bit. Their heads were dropping and weren't getting back on D. That's where the hard work comes into play. That's what we practice for. They were able to come back and get it done.”
Less than three minutes later, Trimmer scored her second goal of the game for what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Trimmer finished the postseason with eight goals.
“It's been one of my top goals to score in a state championship, and it's been my dream since I started playing to score the winning goal in the state championship game,” she said. “All my dreams are coming true.”
The state title was the program's first since 1995, and 1979 before that. Ruth Skoglund, coach of the 1995 squad, and Carolyn Ivins, the 1979 winning coach, as well as numerous former players were among the crowd of more than 1,500 people.
Cape's win marks the third straight state title for the Henlopen Conference, the first time that's happened dating back to 1973 when the field hockey state tournament began. The past two seasons, many have felt the two best teams in Sussex Tech and Cape met in the semifinals; this year, Hughes said the two best were in the finals.
“I wouldn't have wanted this any other way because I really do think we are the two best teams in the state, and this is the way it should have been,” she said. “I think we have a really strong conference; people just overlook it.”
It's hard to argue that there were any better teams than Cape and Delmar this season. The two teams combined for a 35-2 overall record, with Delmar's only losses coming to Cape.
Including playoffs, Cape outscored opponents 109-11. Delmar held a 99-9 margin, with five of its nine goals allowed coming against the Vikings.
When asked if Cape had an advantage entering the game, Trimmer didn't hesitate. “They wanted it just as badly as we did. We knew we had to fight hard to beat them,” she said.
The state title caps the careers of 11 seniors, many of whom played all four years for the Vikings. During that span, Cape has posted a 57-1-1 regular-season record. But it all would've been for naught, if team members didn't finish it off with a win in the biggest game of their careers.
“It's like an out-of-body experience,” Meade said. “I can't even believe it. When there was 30 seconds left I still thought we were going to lose somehow. It hasn't sunk in yet.”