The winter sports programs at Caesar Rodney look to keep their strong record of tournament appearances in tact. With a new coach in boys basketball and some new faces across the board, the Riders still don't show signs of slowing down.

The Caesar Rodney High School winter sports programs have been regulars in their respective state tournaments, and this year’s teams don’t expect things to be much different.

The experience levels among the teams vary, but the Riders production of solid athletes year after year should help mask some youth across the board.

Boys Basketball
2009-10 record: 10-9, 8-6
State tournament: No. 11 seed lost to No. 6 Red Lion Christian Academy, 67-65, in second round
Graduated seniors: 7
Opening game of 2010: 7:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, vs. Sussex Tech High School

When the Caesar Rodney boys basketball team kicks off its season this weekend, there will be a new boss patrolling the sidelines.

Former assistant coach Donell Thomas was promoted to the head job, and even though the Riders aren’t expected to do much in the state this year the new coach disagreed with that idea.

CR lost seven seniors from last year’s team, but with a crop of good, young athletes, Thomas said he is expecting to shock a few opponents this year.

“I believe we’re under the radar, so everything that we do we’ll most likely take teams by surprise,” he said.

In saying that, Thomas added that this year’s Riders would be a constant work in progress as so many players are stepping into new roles.

Because of that the expectations that are being laid out are going to be more realistic, the new coach said.

“Everybody has high expectations but we want to keep it realistic,” Thomas said. “But as long as we work as hard as we can on defense and be patient, everything will work out for the best.”

Girls Basketball
2009-10 record: 11-8, 7-6
State tournament: No. 5 seed lost to No. 4 Smyrna High School, 54-49, in semifinals
Graduated seniors: 3
Opening game of 2010: 7:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, at Sussex Tech High School

Chemistry is a big thing in any team sport, and for the Caesar Rodney girls basketball team it might be what drives it to success this year.

After graduating only three players, granted it was three starters, the Riders return a good amount of talent and experience that Head Coach Bill Victory hopes will work to CR’s advantage this season.

Victory said other than one player on the varsity roster, all the players have played together dating back to last season and through the summer in an off-season league.

With tough conference foes in Smyrna and Cape Henlopen high schools standing in the Riders’ way this year though, the coach said he’s yet to set expectations on where his squad will finish.

“We would be crazy to talk about a conference championship right now,” Victory said. “You have Smyrna who lost one kid and Cape who went to the final four last year.”

The approach then, he said, is to split the two meetings with each team and then hope for the best with every other opponent.

If the Riders do that, Victory said, it will be a pretty good season.

CR opens the season with three straight road games, a challenge the coach said should help get it battle tested early.

“I think we’re going to start well,” Victory said. “But I do think those games will tell us a lot about ourselves.”

2009-10 record: 8-3, 5-2
State tournament: No. 4 seed lost to No. 1 St. Mark’s High School, 51-12, in semifinals
Graduated seniors: 5
Opening match of 2010: 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, at the Ray Oliver Invitational, held at the McDonogh School, Owings Mills, Md.

When setting up a schedule for his Caesar Rodney wrestling team, Head Coach Dickie Howell does not mess around early on.

Some teams might want to get their feet wet with a few easy matches or tournaments, but that’s not how Howell likes it for CR.

Instead, in the first four weeks of the season the Riders will compete in four major tournaments, including the nationally famous Ironman and Beast of the East contests.

The reason behind frontloading the schedule like that, Howell said, is to gauge where his team is early as well as get his wrestlers in tough matches early that prepare them for the big conference and state bouts.

“My philosophy is get them in the tough matches early and get everybody beaten a few times … then you figure out where the problems are,” he said. “Then you’ve got most of the year to fix where the problems are.”

With returning state champions Issah Meade, senior, and Kaleb LeMaire, junior, leading the way this year, the Riders are set to fix those early problems and step right back into its role as one of the state’s elite programs.

Howell said Sussex Central and Smyrna high schools should be tough competition in the Henlopen Conference, and St. Mark’s High School, the two-time defending state champion, should be right there at the state level.

This year, however, the coach said the run for the state crown is up for grabs as St. Mark’s graduated a lot of last year’s team. That, he added, has already made the season more interesting.

“It’s always good when there’s more than one team that thinks they can win it,” Howell said. “I think our guys, they know it’s within they’re grasp. But there’s a bunch of teams like us. It’s just something that’s a possibility.”