The basketball regular season closes this week and teams throughout state ready themselves for a long run, while others hope they’ve done enough to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Many of the teams looking forward to the postseason are from the highly competitive Henlopen Conference.
In the upcoming girls state tournament multiple Henlopen Conference teams should earn spots. While Woodbridge has led the way the majority of the season, flirting with an undefeated finish, teams from the Henlopen North, like Dover, Polytech, Cape Henlopen, Sussex Central and Sussex Tech are all hoping to hear their names called come tournament time.
Despite a losing mark, the Dover Lady Senators are hoping to make the postseason after an extremely difficult schedule. After finishing on the outside looking in at the playoff picture over the years, this year the team is finding out what it takes to fight through every game.
“Basketball season is one of the longest seasons and you are not afforded any time off,” said Dover head coach Jahi Davenport. “Injuries, sickness, school work and the overall pressure of the game can be a lot on an athlete if they’re not prepared for the grind of a varsity season. As a second year coach for this program, the expectations and the commitment expected from the girls is new to a lot of them.”
Whatever the result, at the end of the day Davenport and his team want to look back on season they can be proud of.
“My two seniors have had a rollercoaster of a high school career, so we want to leave them with a lifetime of memories and friendships that will make them proud to be a Senator,” Davenport said. “We say every day we want respect, we don’t’ want to be a team that players and coaches circle as an easy win on their schedule.”
Another squad hoping they’ve done enough to warrant a spot is the Polytech Lady Panthers, another program growing under new leadership.
While three straight losses late in the season may hurt their playoff chances, they came against Caravel, Sussex Central and Hodgson, all teams who will be tournament bound.
“They were tough losses against very good teams,” said Polytech head coach Kyle Taylor. “We take something from every game to make ourselves better and those games were no different.”
When it comes to their playoff chances, the Lady Panthers are simply controlling what they can, playing hard each and every game.
“As I told them since I first met with them in June, I expect us to get better every day and there is always room for improvement,” Taylor said. “I’m hoping each day and game that goes by we strive to become better than we were the day before.”
Down in Sussex County, Tech and Central have all but solidified spots, but the Cape Henlopen Lady Vikings are hoping to break the top 10 and maybe even earn a first round bye.
Having clinched the Henlopen North title, the Lady Vikings are hoping to keep their winning ways going after a learning experience during the middle of their schedule where they suffered back-to-back losses to St. Elizabeth and Polytech.
“We knew those games were going to be tough on us, we had a team meeting afterward to get back on track and the girls have bounced back nicely,” said Cape Henlopen head coach Pat Woods. “Now, the key is to maintain that focus without suffering the losses-our execution has continued to improve along with our basketball I.Q. and I hope to see us become more and more efficient while limiting careless mistakes.”
The girls tournament will open with the first round Wednesday, Feb. 27.
The boys tournament picture is shaping up. Throughout the season the frontrunner in the Henlopen Conference and the state has been the impressive Dover Senators.
Dover finished with a perfect record against the Henlopen North, clinching the division title and have all but locked up the No. 1 overall seed. Led by a talented group, including Eden Davis, Elijah Allen and Blue/Gold All-Star John Lassiter, the Senators will enter the tournament as one of the favorites to win it all.
Dover rival Caesar Rodney has stood out. Like the Senators, the Riders have positioned themselves nicely for a top seed. Behind Blue-Gold All-Stars Jaden Corbett and Shaft Clark, CR went 9-3 against the Henlopen North, with two of those losses to the Senators.
The Sussex Tech Ravens hope to come away with a top 10 seed. They turned it on toward the end of the season after a slow start.
“We lost some games earlier in the season that we felt we could have won,” said Sussex Tech head coach Damon Ayers. “So, we came together as a team and talked about where we wanted to be at this point of the season. Our coaching staff constantly emphasizes to our team that people haven’t seen our best basketball yet.”
Behind Devon Reynolds, Kevin Custis, Skylar Johnson, J’Sean Johnson and Rick Kane, the Ravens are hoping to continue their strong play.
“We’re looking to see our team continue to peak, it’s a good time to start playing your best basketball and seeing your kids bond working towards the same common goal,” Ayers said.
“We want to finish the regular season with a win and hope to generate enough points for a first round bye-our kids believe we have as good of a shot in the tournament as all the other teams.”
While Dover, CR, and Tech are all looking forward to clinching top seeds, the Smyrna Eagles are a possible dark horse.
After reaching the state finals each of the last two seasons, winning it all in 2017, the Eagles have had a down year at 6-6 against the Henlopen North. However, it’s still possible for the Eagles to sneak into the tournament, where their experience could make them dangerous.
The conference reach doesn’t begin and end in the North division and several teams in the Henlopen South will be tournament bound, including the Lake Forest Spartans and Milford Buccaneers.
Lake Forest’s program continues to grow and on the court they’ve shown they belong among the best. The Spartans finished with a 12-2 mark against the Henlopen South, led by standouts Jaysem Vasquez, Kaheim Kimbrough-Roach and Blue/Gold All-Star Jene Sample. Often overlooked, the Spartans head into the tournament looking to continue doing the things that have them up for a possible first round bye.
“I’m hoping to see our boys continuing to focus on the little details necessary to make us a better team down the stretch,” said Lake Forest head coach Mike Starkey. “At this point, there’s nothing new, it comes down to paying attention to the little things. We talk all the time about doing the simple things really well, we’ve been tough defensively all year long and I expect to see my guys grinding to try to get even better defensively as we head into the postseason.
“I’m not sure if we’ll be fortunate enough to get one of those first round byes, but we all talked about the importance of hosting a first round game.”
Down the road, the Milford Buccaneers are looking forward to the tournament after ending the season, like the Spartans, with a 12-2 mark against the division.
“Right now, coupled with a few bad breaks, we aren’t playing great basketball right now,” said Milford head coach Lamarr Shorts. “Even outside of wins and losses, we want to be playing basketball better than we have as of late, so heading into these last games I expect to see us back playing like we know that we can, getting back to basic things that we have practiced all season.
“It will require us paying attention to the small things and being completely engaged and focused on the task at hand, understanding we want to put ourselves in a position to have an opportunity to do something special.”
The DIAA boys tournament first round is Tuesday, Feb. 26.