The 2009 class of Caesar Rodney High School fall athletes has a lot of work to do to reach the bar set by the fall athletes of 2008. But with some familiar veterans along with some new faces, the varsity coaches think the goals are attainable.


    The 2008 fall sports campaign for Caesar Rodney High School was one filled with achievements, ranging from numerous all-conference and all-state player selections, to state and Henlopen Conference championships.

    The 2009 class of Rider student-athletes will have a lot of work to do to live up to the expectations set by those who came before them, but the head coaches of those teams think CR is bound to be stronger than ever.

Volleyball
2008 Record: 13-3
State Tournament: No. 11 seed, lost to No. 6 Wilmington Friends, 3-0, in the first round
First Game: 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Tatnall Tournament

    After breezing through the Henlopen Conference during the 2008 regular season, the Caesar Rodney volleyball team got a lesson in just how tough out of conference competition could be in the first round of the state tournament.

    Facing Wilmington Friends in that first playoff game the Riders walked away knowing one thing — they had work to do to compete with the upstate teams.

    That first-hand lesson Friends was able to teach CR, first-year head coach Tiffany Ranger said, is something that has stuck in the veteran Rider squad’s heads since that early exit.

    “The competition upstate is so much better than what we have in our conference,” Ranger said. “The more we get the opportunity to play those teams the better we will be. It will take us and the program to the next level.”

    A lot of the preseason focus, she said, has been on correcting the mistakes made in that playoff game, as well as strengthening areas in which Friends clearly dominated.

    “Last year we had a couple of surprises,” Ranger said. “We weren’t prepared for some of the stuff we faced in the first round, but we know what we need to improve on.”

    Ranger, 1999 Caesar Rodney graduate, is taking over for last year’s coach George Fisher, who is staying on as an assistant this year.

    With the combined knowledge the two have of the game and the strengths and weaknesses of the team, Ranger said, the Riders should be a particularly well-coached team this year.

    She added that inheriting a roster from Fisher that features six seniors and seven juniors isn’t hurting the process early on either.

    “All around we’re pretty good,” Ranger said. “We have some really strong hitters. Our setters are a little young, but our veterans will pull them up and get them where they need to be.”

Cross Country
State Tournament: Boys finished No. 4 in Division I; Girls finished No. 7 in Division I
First Meet: 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, vs. Milford

    After an unusually cool summer, a heat wave swept through Kent County last week just in time to meet the fall high school sports teams out on the field.

    That kind of weather can cause a lot of problems if student-athletes show up out of shape and unprepared, but luckily for Caesar Rodney boys and girls cross-country coach Mike Tucci, that wasn’t the case.

    Tucci said even though the 90-degree heat was a tough environment to start the season in, the dedication of his runners in the off-season made things a breeze.

    “It was hard but they did pretty well,” he said. “There were really no problems with the heat. Nobody was passing out, nobody got dehydrated.

    “Things have just been going really well. The student-athletes seem to have done their summer running. They’ve shown up in shape and nobody is injured. It’s a good start.”

    Much the same as the boys soccer team, the cross-country squads are enjoying the lengthy preseason, as the top-two boys runners and top girl runner from the 2008 team have been lost to graduation.

    Those runners — Eric Line, who finished second in the state; Marshall Hawkins, the fourth best runner at states; and Leann Seiwell, sixth-place finisher for the females — won’t be easy to replace, Tucci said.

    But with a lot of young talent and some extra time to work with them, he said the potential for what the Riders could do this year is exciting.

    “I like the longer preseason,” he said. “It’s not like you just jump into it and start running your meets. You get time to actually coach and prepare them for a meet and teach them how to run races.

    “It also gives the team time to bond, as well as get used to their school schedules and classes.”

    This season has seen some division realignment for both the boys and girls, with the Concord boys entering Division I, while girls 2008 Division I champ Padua moves to D-II and Cape Henlopen goes up to D-I.

    Because of the changes, Tucci said he’s sure where his team will finish; just that he hopes both the boys and girls put themselves in favorable positions.

    “I just hope we’re in a position where we have a shot.”

Boys Soccer
2008 Record: 13-2-1
State Tournament: No. 2 seed, lost to No. 10 Caravel Academy, 1-0, in second round
First Game: 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Woodbridge High School

    The preseason workouts for the Caesar Rodney boys soccer team have been less workout and more of a who’s who through the first week of the preseason.

    That’s not to say the roster is made up of no-names, but instead that there are some serious gaps left from the six starting seniors that graduated from the 2008 team and Darrell Gravatt, head coach, is trying to figure out who fits best where.

    Among those open holes are the two forward positions vacated by last year’s top scorers, Wayne Tiller and Alvenso Honore.

    Any time a team loses its top two scorers to graduation, Gravatt said, means that two big doors open up for players to step in and fill that void.

    “We’re looking at a lot of guys trying to find some players that can play up top for us,” he said. “We lost a lot of talent from last year’s team.”

    Gravatt added that he’s not expecting anyone to come in just yet and score at will the way his two snipers did last year, but that doesn’t mean the Rider offense can’t be as potent as ever.

    “We’re trying to find a couple of guys that can plug those holes,” he said. “Instead of having two guys score 25 goals this year, we might have five guys that come in and score 10 each.

    “Somebody will step up. The jury is still out on who, but it’s early. There’re a lot of opportunities for these CR players, and I’m convinced that on our team there’s somebody waiting to break out.”

    Despite losing more than half of last year’s starting roster, Gravatt said he and the team refuse to lower the bar and in no way look at this as a rebuilding year.

    “Our goal is to win the conference championship and go as far as we can in states,” he said. “We realize it’s going to be a different year. Most of the positions were easy to put in last year. This year it’s completely different, but we’re not looking to rebuild.”

    The Riders, Gravatt said, were given a slight advantage based on their situation this year, as the preseason runs longer than it has in years past.

    This, the coach said, will give him and his coaching staff more time to identify which players should go where.

    With the six players that graduated last year, Gravatt said CR had lost the “heart of that team,” but he is expecting new co-captains Bryce Morrow and Jesse Marano, along with returning players Jordan Lundy, Kyle Scott, Mike Clark, K.J. Hall and Brandon Plourde to create a new Rider pulse.

    With the first game of the season still more than three weeks away, the Riders have plenty to get together, but the ever-optimistic Gravatt said he has no worries that things will sort themselves out.

    “We have a large junior class and have a couple of sophomores coming up, so hopefully we can get it done,” he said. “I know the conference is tough. But we won’t take anyone for granted.”

Email Brian Citino at brian.citino@doverpost.com