The Polytech High School field hockey team did not reach its ultimate goal of winning a state championship this fall, but the progress and history made should help the program for years down the road.

As Barry Fillman, head coach of the Polytech High School field hockey team, gathered his players around for the final time last week, he wanted to make sure his girls walked away remembering one thing.

That one thing was not the memory of the loss the No. 15 Panthers had just suffered to No. 7 William Penn High School, 3-0, in the quarterfinals on Nov. 13 at Appoquinimink High School, nor was it the disappointment of not reaching their goal of the state championship game.

Instead, Fillman asked his girls to forget the fresh pain of the loss for a second and realize that they had just made history as the only Polytech field hockey team to ever make the postseason.

Add to that the fact that the Panthers upset No. 2 Mount Pleasant High School, 1-0, in the first-round – a stunning win – and the coach said this year’s team is one special group.

“They came off after the game and they were not happy, but I said, ‘Hey, take a moment, look around you and realize that you’re here today,’” Fillman said.

Junior Kim Klinkenborg, midfield, said that while it was disappointing to see the season come to an end, the team was able to grasp what their coach was telling them and realize just how unique their team was.

“We left the field with no regrets,” Klinkenborg said. “We were happy we went down in history and made it past the first round.”

For the senior class of Heather Bliler, Chelsie Nelson, Lindsey Scott, Jillian Richter and Rachael Hamner, Fillman said it was a memorable way to end their high school careers.

He said the goal all year that was echoed from the team’s leadership group was to make the postseason, and the win over Mount Pleasant once it got there was just the icing on the cake to that.

“They didn’t just show up and get bounced in the first round,” Fillman said. “This was an exclamation point on their senior year.”

The ability to get to that point, though, the coach said, did not come overnight. He praised the mental toughness of the team and said that attribute was the reason the girls ended up where they did.

Part of Fillman’s program, he said, is to build that mental strength with tough conditioning and high intensity practices with heavy in-squad competition.

“Nothing took away their focus or belief of the fact that they were good enough every day they took the field,” he said. “That mental toughness, you can’t put a value to that.”

Going forward, the team graduates only five players, and Fillman said he fully expects the momentum of this year to carry into 2011.

“It’s a great jumping off point for us,” he said. “It’s going to put in a lot of people’s minds when they play us that there’s some pressure on them now.”

Klinkenborg added that she and her returning teammates don’t want to be looked at as a one-year wonder, fluke type of team. That, she said, will be part of what drives the Panthers next fall.

“We’re already ready to show everyone that we brought it last year and we’re going to do it again next year,” she said.

Fillman agreed, and said getting knocked out of the tournament in the quarterfinals should only fuel his girls to push even harder next year and take the next step.

“I think we validated ourselves with the win in the first round,” he said. “But they want to come back and prove they’re here to stay and they’re not going away. They’re going to come back and go further.”

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