On Saturday, the DIAA Boys Soccer State Tournament begins as the top eight teams in the state compete for the Division I state title.
The Appoquinimink Jaguars finished atop the Blue Hen Flight A Division, drawing the No. 2 overall seed out of eight schools after finishing the season 13-2.
Reaching the postseason has become commonplace for the Appo program over the years, but as Head Coach Adam Bear describes, this year’s team had to overcome it’s own challenges, mainly youth and meeting the bar set by Jaguar teams in the past.
“They’re carrying on the expectations that previous teams have set for the program,” said Bear. “This team is younger than previous years but there hasn’t been a drop off.”
Afters a successful regular season, the real challenge now begins for an Appo squad that seamlessly replaced seven senior starters from a year ago.
“For a lot of our starters it will be their first time playing in a tournament game,” Bear said. “How we handle it and perform will determine the success of our postseason.”
That first test will take place on Saturday when they open the playoffs against an up and coming Polytech Panthers squad, who drew the No. 7 overall seed.
Polytech finished third in the Henlopen North Division going 8-4 against the conference this season.
The Panthers started out hot, winning their first nine games before dropping four in a row to Sussex Central, Sussex Tech, Newark and Caesar Rodney, all teams that qualified for the DI state tournament.
“This seasons’ team goes out and works 110 percent each and every day,” said Polytech Head Coach Shaune Gorman. “The boys have a lot of talent and are working together as as a team.”
The senior duo of Marco Maddelena and Zach Mahue helped lead the Panthers to an average of just over three goal per game during the regular season. Meanwhile, Polytech played strong team defense, allowing just 16 goal against this year, fifth best in Division I.
“Polytech is a very good team, they have a lot of talent throughout the field,” said Bear. “We know they’re going to play hard and be creative in the offensive third.”
While Polytech’s budding program should provide a good challenge for Appo, the season the Jaguars had shouldn’t be overlooked. Appo’s 13-2 mark was second best in the state, behind only Salesianum who finished the season 13-1-1.
During the year, Appo fell only to aforementioned Sallies and a red-hot Caesar Rodney team that won 12-straight to close out the season after an 0-3 start.
The Jags began the season firing on all cylinders, winning their first nine games by a combined score of 37-6.
After starting out 9-0, Appoquinimink suffered their first loss of the season in a hard-fought 2-1 game against Sallies back in mid-October.
The Jaguars responded with three straight wins over St. Georges Tech, Mt. Pleasant and St. Andrew’s, outscoring those three teams 15-1.
They fell for the second time during the regular season in their second-to-last game, another one-goal loss, 3-2 to Caesar Rodney.
Appo ended the season on a high-note, however, winning their finale against a scrappy William Penn team, 4-3.
The Jaguars’ impressive performance during the regular season isn’t the only statistics that backs their claim as a state title contender.
Appo averaged just under four goals per game - their 58 total goals this season was fourth-best within Division I, behind only Delcastle, Salesianum and Caesar Rodney.
Defensively, they were also among the top schools in the state, as well. Only Wilmington Charter and Newark allowed less goals against than the Jaguars 15 this season.
For the Jags, they have their eye on the prize, hoping to move on Saturday toward their ultimate goal, a state title.
“Every year the goal is to compete for a state title and the players take it very seriously,” Bear said. “When you put on that Appo jersey there are high expectations on the field and in the classroom.”
If the Jaguars get past Polytech on Saturday, they’ll move on to the state semifinals on Wednesday, November 16 taking on the winner of No. 3 Charter School of Wilmington/No. 6 Newark.