Milford field hockey undefeated, vying for state championship

MILFORD — Head coach Andrea Fleming had no doubt this season’s Milford field hockey team could produce record breaking results.

Even the most positive thinking coach, however, could not have envisioned the start the Lady Buccaneers have had so far this season.

Heading into Tuesday’s game at Smyrna, Milford was sporting a perfect 7-0 record after dominating most of their opponents.

The Milford Bucs continued the streak Tuesday night against Smyrna, winning 4-0 with defensive saves  by Taylor Brittingham and Autum Wilson.

With Saturday’s 2-1 Turf Bowl victory over rival Lake Forest and the win Tuesday night, Milford has outscored its challengers by a combined score of 38-4.

Coach Fleming’s positive outlook about her team’s abilities this season are well founded.

“This team is basically the same team we had last year,” she said. “We only had one senior last year, so this is pretty much just an extension of last season’s team.”

Although last year’s team lost two of its first three games, the Lady Bucs did rebound and finished with a 9-6-1 record that included a berth in the state tournament.

“At the start of last season, I did not feel the girls had a lot of confidence in themselves because they just missed playing in the state tournament the season before,” said Coach Fleming. “However, after the slow start, you could see their confidence begin to build as we started to win. The transition basically came about when the girls realized playing as a team was much better than playing as individuals.”

Almost immediately after their final game, returning Lady Bucs started to prepare for this season.

“The girls did work very hard in the off season because they knew they have the potential to be one of the top teams in the state this year,” said Coach Fleming. “They played indoors over the winter, went to spring tournaments and played in summer leagues together.

“This group of eight seniors are very special,” Coach Fleming continued. “In fact, six of the eight have been starting on varsity since they were freshmen while the other two started on the varsity team as sophomores.”

The eight seniors are Megan Wolfe, Hayden Shockley, Rajene Bowe, Megan Fry, Margaret Sollie, Katelyn Melvin, Deja Rodgriquez-Santiago and Daphne Leighty.

“These girls are a very close knit group,” Coach Fleming said. “They are not only great players, but they are also great team leaders.”

To match a good offense, a stellar defense is also needed for a team to be successful and Milford has proved its defense is up to the challenge.

“Our defense is anchored by [junior] goalie Leah Barnett, who has played almost every minute of every game. Leah, who has been playing on varsity since she was a freshman, comes up big in big games,” Coach Fleming said.

“Actually, she hasn’t been getting a lot of action lately because our defense has been so dominant a lot of teams are not getting the ball into our circle very much. Leah has all the tools a good goalie needs. She’s quick, explosive, aggressive and is a great team leader.”

Members of Milford’s defense helping Barnett protect the goal are Deja, Katelyn, Margaret and junior Brianna Wells.

The Lady Bucs counterattacks are mostly started when the ball gets to midfield.

“The center of our field is usually our offensive catalyst,” said Coach Melvin. “Kate and [junior] Darby [Brennan] are the ones who transition the ball from our defense to our offense very quickly.”

Milford’s experienced offense is led by Bowe, who is currently the team’s leading scorer, Daphne and Megan. Also contributing to the offense is the team’s quarterback Darby, who is the team’s assist leader.

“Our offense is very fast and explosive,” Coach Fleming said. “They are so fast that it takes them only a few passes to get into our opponent’s scoring circle. Most of our scoring opportunities are setup by Brennan because her passes open up the field.”

Milford’s number one goal this season is to win a state championship

“The last time a Milford team won a state championship was in 1996,” said Coach Fleming. “Since that state championship, Milford has not been able to advance past the first round of the tournament. We have made it to the tournament numerous times but just haven’t been able to win a playoff game.”

While Coach Fleming is taking the season one game at a time, she knows which team her Lady Bucs will have to beat in order to win the Southern Division and the Henlopen Conference Championship.

“We play Delmar [Oct. 18] at home on our Senior Night,” she said about the currently undefeated Lady Wildcats.

“With both of us playing so well this season there’s no doubt it’s going to be a great game. We do have somewhat of an advantage because we are playing at home on turf and their home field is grass.”

Much like knowing about the team’s upcoming opponents, she remains aware of where the Lady Bucs may be seeded in the state tournament to take place later in the season.

“Obviously, if we go undefeated, we will likely be the number one seed,” Coach Fleming said. “If we lose one, we could still be the top seed and if we lose two, we should still be in the top five.”

Complacency is a concern for the coach of an undefeated team.

“As a coach, that’s something you always worry about,” said Coach Fleming. “It’s something we talk over with the girls every week. We tell them that they need to remain focused and play their best throughout the season and tournament.”

In addition to undefeated Delmar, teams with winning records remaining on Milford’s schedule are Cape Henlopen [away Oct. 25] and Indian River [away Oct. 27].

Bill Mitchell can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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