A season removed from their last playoff berth in 2016, the Milford field hockey took a step back last year, finishing 7-7-1, just outside the playoff picture.

Despite losing nine seniors from last year’s team, Milford boasts a large group of returnees poised to get the Lady Bucs back into the postseason.

Milford has 14 players back, including seniors Vanasha Daniels, Allie Davis, Jessica Donovan, Silvara Santiago and Emma Shockley.

The Lady Bucs have nine underclassmen returning, juniors Olivia Cromer, Hailey Sidibe, Sara Wallace and Kyleigh Wright, along with sophomores Summer Davis, Samantha Jacona, Isabella Keesler-Evans, Emma Sescinski and Gillian Strawder.

Milford head coach Andrea McPike is pleased with the team’s vibe early on.

“The atmosphere has been great, the girls are working hard and very positive,” said McPike. “They’ve been able to self-critique and recognize our weaknesses and areas we need to focus on while working hard towards improvement.”

Having strong leadership on the team is paramount. Milford’s returning players have emerged as leaders.

“Sara Wallace has taken on a huge leadership role; she is very verbal and constantly motivating others, she’s also very intense in everything she does, so it sets the tone for drills and gameplay,” McPike said. “Hailey Sidibe is a verbal leader on the field and directs well during a game. Samie Jacona is a great verbal leader and motivator as well. She has no fear in pushing other players to their limits and making sure everyone is working hard at all times. She also plays every play with intensity and leads by example, setting the tone of practice.”

Milford opened the season with several tough challenges, losing their first two games to Henlopen North Division opponents Polytech and Dover. However, there were positives to take out of both games. Against Polytech, the Lady Bucs trailed by just a goal at halftime before the Lady Panthers pulled away in the second half. In their matchup against Dover, Milford trailed by two goals at halftime, scoring two goals in the second half to fall by just a goal.

After the 0-2 start, Milford earned their first victory against Seaford, exploding for 10 goals in a shutout.

Senior Jessica Donovan led the way with four goals on the night, while sophomore Summer Davis finished with three, senior Vanasha Daniels had two, and junior Hailey Sidibe added another.

With conference matchups coming against Lake Forest, Caesar Rodney, Delmar, Sussex Central, Cape Henlopen, Indian River, Woodbridge, Sussex Tech and Laurel, Milford hopes to improve.

“We want the girls to give one hundred and ten percent every play in every game with the mentality that every game and play counts and they must work as a unit,” McPike said. “We’re looking for the girls to self-reflect and work on our areas of weakness and making the small improvements in those areas day by day.”

The Lady Bucs are in action this week, hosting Lake Forest Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.