Until this year, there could only be one No. 1 team in Delaware high school boys soccer.
Now there are two, and they will meet in the season opener for both teams.
The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association has agreed to split boys and girls soccer into two divisions, as is already done in football, cross-country, dual team wrestling and outdoor track and field. Salesianum, ranked No. 1 in Division I boys soccer, will meet Indian River, ranked first in Division II, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday to highlight a five-game schedule in the inaugural Upstate-Downstate Challenge Cup at Dover High.
The day begins within Dickinson vs. Lake Forest at 10:30 a.m., followed by Smyrna vs. Middletown at 12:30 p.m. Tower Hill meets Cape Henlopen at 2:30, with A.I. du Pont and Dover playing the final game at 6:30. Admission is $5, and that covers all five games.
“We want to make this an annual event,” said Mike Wagner, executive director of the Delaware Association of Athletic Directors, which is sponsoring the games. “We also want to do one in the spring for girls. … We think we have five equally balanced games, so we’re hoping for a great day of soccer.”
The Delaware High School Soccer Coaches Association proposed splitting boys and girls soccer to give more Division II teams an opportunity to compete for a state championship. The DHSSCA examined the 16-team fields for the boys and girls state tournaments over the last 15 years and found that, on average, 12 of the 18 Division I soccer teams were reaching the postseason. But only four of the 32 Division II teams were making the playoffs.
Starting this year, the Division I soccer tournaments will have eight teams, while the Division II tournaments will have 12 teams.
“This way, the Division II schools can build up their programs,” said Paul Booton, boys and girls soccer coach at Dover. “I’m in favor of it, because I know it saved wrestling when they did it. It will be curious to see how it goes, but I think it’s a really good idea.”
Saturday’s Sallies-Indian River game will be a rematch of last year’s boys state final, which the Sals won 4-0. Salesianum has won nine of the last 11 state championships, and a public school hasn’t earned a boys title since Glasgow won in 1995.
“We’re never going to go public-private, which some people wanted, but we did a lot of research and checked into what other states of our size have done,” Booton said of dividing the tournaments. “We looked at the data, and this is what we came up with. We’re going to track it and see how it goes.”
Time to run
The high school cross-country season also kicks off Saturday with the 56th annual Lake Forest Cross Country Festival on the 5K course at Killens Pond State Park.
The event offers 13 races for all ages and ability levels, starting at 9 a.m. with a 5K run/walk that is open to the public. Cost is $25, with online registration available at trisportsevents.com and on-site registration available at 8 a.m. Proceeds benefit Friends of Killens Pond State Park.
The main events are the Varsity A (large schools) and Varsity B (small schools) races for boys and girls, which draw top high school teams from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and Washington, D.C. During the last few years, the festival has averaged 1,600-2,000 total participants.
The Varsity Girls A race will start at 10 a.m., followed by Varsity Girls B at 10:25, Varsity Boys A at 10:50 and Varsity Boys B at 11:15.
Rounding it up
* Red Lion Christian Academy will not play varsity football this season, but the Lions have assembled 14-16 players for a junior varsity team and are searching for some opponents. Red Lion Christian has three JV games scheduled but would like to find four more dates against small New Castle County high schools. Interested opponents should email Athletic Director Dom Bonvetti at email@example.com for more information.
* Two 2013 St. Elizabeth graduates are starting their college soccer careers. Brandon Crystle is playing at West Chester, and Steven Lukas is playing for Catholic University.