After spending four seasons as the head coach at Dover, helping turn the program around, leaving to go to Smyrna wasn’t any easy decision for Aaron Harris.
“It was very hard. Even harder than walking away from the wrestling program, it was hard to walk away from the athletic department and all the relationships I’ve built over the last four years,” Harris said after being hired to take over the Smyrna program. “It was something I pondered for a long time before I decided I had to do what was best for me.”
Fast forward a few months to the start of the wrestling season, Harris will return to Dover tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 12, when the Eagles battle the Senators in an early Henlopen Conference battle at 7 p.m. Dover High is on Route 8 (Forrest Avenue) on the western edge of Dover. The address is 1 Dover High Drive.
Under Harris, the Senators' wrestling team grew quickly, making the postseason for the first time in 20 years, and crowning an individual state champion for the first time in over 10 years.
So far in Smyrna, the transition has been a smooth one for Harris and his team.
“The wrestlers are doing a great job buying into all of the changes,” Harris said. “The wrestling community has also been very welcoming and supportive.”
Strong showings at invitationals and at St. Georges Tech
On the mat, the results have been positive as well.
Led by first-place finishes by Gabe Giampietro, Jack Davis, Andrew DeBenedictis-Bayne and Dover transfer Amir Pierce, the Eagles won the Ray Oliver Invitational to open their schedule.
A few days later, Smyrna defeated St. Georges Tech on the road, to win their first dual meet of the season. Pierce and Nick Natarcola, a state finalist a season ago, led the charge for the Eagles, in a 34-25 victory.
This past weekend, the Eagles finished second at the Milford Invitational with four champions: Jack Davis who was named Most Outstanding Wrestler, Gabe Giampietro, Nick Natarcola and Bryce Mullen.
What to expect in Dover
The Senators returned to the mats this season looking a tad different as a team. First, Dover has a new head coach in Alex Meade. Secondly, the Senators’ lineup has a new look as well.
Dover is without several key pieces from last year’s squad, including graduates Tykwan Joyner, Divine Watkins, Azim Opare and Jaden Adkins, all of whom were state qualifiers last season.
Looking to pick up the slack left behind by the team’s departures, Dover will lean on a talented group of returnees, including seniors Richard Fonticiella, Raeshawn Alexander and Tyshaun Cole, junior Sam Arkuwoille and sophomore Hugo Harp. All five were individual state qualifiers last season for the Senators.
In the early going, the group has responded to the challenge putting forth a standout performance at the annual Polytech Invitational before opening their dual-meet schedule with a victory over Laurel and most recently, a second place finish at the Yellow Jacket Invitational.
“Being a first year head coach has not been easy and has been an ongoing learning experience,” Meade said. “My first win felt good, but I was not fully satisfied. As a coach, I judge performance more than a win and this has been a part of my success in the past.”
While being thrown into the tough Henlopen Conference would be a challenge for any new coach, Meade says a great support system around him has made the transition easier.
“Everyone in the administration, even the other coaches, have been very supportive and that really helps me to learn my role; I have also been fortunate to have great assistant coaches around me,” said Meade
Meade has even turned to connection he has outside of Dover, in Harris at Smyrna and Milford Head Coach Don Parsley as well.
“When I run into issues or feel overwhelmed, I reach out to Coach Harris and Coach Parsley,” Meade said. “We have a great relationship that stretches back over 30 years, so I’m truly grateful for them.”