WOODSIDE — Trevor Bradshaw remembers the moment he knew his Polytech High volleyball team was going to be OK this season.
Ironically, it was when the Panthers were dropping a 3-0 decision to Archmere on Sept. 22.
While the score didn’t show it, Bradshaw said Polytech played its share of competitive points with the defending state champion Auks.
“When you saw the volleys that were played, we hung with them for as long as we could,” he said. “They just had more finishers than we did.
“But they (Polytech’s players) walked away from that match smiling, feeling good. After I saw that, I wasn’t worried at all because I knew they had the sticktoitiveness to battle with tough teams.”
Bradshaw’s optimism turned out to be well-founded.
After losing four out of five matches in one stretch, the rebuilt Panthers have now won six in a row. A hard-earned 3-2 victory over rival Caesar Rodney on Tuesday night left Polytech with a 10-4 record.
While they still host highly-regarded Delaware Military (14-0) on Friday at 5 p.m. in their regular-season finale, the Panthers are assured of receiving the program’s seventh straight DIAA state tournament bid.
The 24-team field for the newly-expanded tourney will be determined on Sunday with first-round matches slated for Nov. 5.
Not bad considering Polytech really only had one experienced player when the season started. The Panthers’ starting lineup includes three sophomores, a junior and just two seniors.
“With the seniors all leaving, it was kind of different, like ‘How are we going to do this year?’” said senior outside hitter Katie Kozel. “It was more like a question. But then every game we proceeded to say that we’re just as good as last year.”
“At first I think we probably had a little bit of doubt, like ‘What are we going to do?’” said senior setter Morgan Teszner. “‘We’ve got to try to gel together real quick.’
“We talk a lot more (now) and we’re covering each other and trying to pick each other up. Now we’re talking all the time.”
The win over CR on Tuesday was one of those matches that could have gone either way. Polytech ended up winning by scores of 26-24, 24-26, 25-21, 23-25, 15-8.
The match, which lasted three hours, avenged a tough 3-2 loss to the Riders a year ago.
“It was amazing,” said Kozel. “I was so excited to beat CR because, last year when we played, those were the best seniors that we’ve ever had — and we lost to them.
“Just knowing that we have a really good team that works together was really helpful. We love playing with each other.”
“We definitely covered and we were being pretty scrappy about it,” Teszner said about the match. “We definitely kept up our spirits because we really wanted to win.
“I felt like I’d been through the ringer. I was exhausted but I was just so happy. I think we all were.”
Besides Teszner and Kozel, the Panthers’ starting lineup includes sophomores Emily Campbell (outside hitter), Kaylee Williams (middle) and Ashley Rivera (middle) along with junior Alex Hobbs (opposite). Campbell did see a lot of playing time as a freshman but she was a libero then.
“It wasn’t so much losing what we lost, it was not having the experience at the speed of varsity,” said Bradshaw. “They have done a great job of stepping up quickly.”
After losing to both Smyrna and Cape Henlopen early in the season, Polytech’s chances of winning the Henlopen Conference Northern Division title went out the window. But perhaps the Panthers’ biggest goal — earning the program’s first state tournament win — is still within their grasp.
“I think right now they are very focused on that goal,” said Bradshaw. “And we think it’s an attainable one.”
“I think the conference is a big goal of ours,” said Teszner. “But, I think an even bigger one is we definitely want to make it past the first round of the state tournament this year.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.