With last year’s class of stars graduated, a new group of Dover High basketball players have the chance to step up and keep a winning tradition alive for the Senators. The rest of the winter teams hope to follow suit and create success.

Success for the Dover High School winter athletic programs varied across the board last year.

For instance, the boys basketball team finished as the state runner-up, while the wrestling team tried to get its bearings under a new head coach.

This year, all the programs are hoping to build off the steps it took a year ago and hopefully come away with some accolades at the conference and state levels when the season wraps up in a few months.

Boys Basketball
2009-10 record: 15-3, 13-1
State tournament: No. 3 seed, lost to No. 1 Sanford School, 55-45, in finals
Graduated seniors: 6
Opening game of 2010: 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, vs. Sussex Tech High School

When Stephen Wilson took over the Dover boys basketball program two years ago, he had a solid, young core of players that were looking to build a legacy at the school.

Those Senators, six of whom graduated a year ago, did leave their mark, finishing second in the state. Now, it’s up to a new crop of players to keep that tradition going.

Head Coach Stephen Wilson said the six returning players, along with the new guys coming in, should be ready to make their own name.

“I would hope they’d want to build their own legacy,” Wilson said.

While the last two years under basically the same team was an amazing experience, the coach said it’s time to move beyond that and start focusing on this year, especially with the tough schedule Dover has in front of it.

“We don’t want to compare our season to what we did last year,” Wilson said. “But we do want to be an upper-echelon team, a top team in the state. If they put their minds to it, they’ll have a lot of success.”

Even though there will be a number of new faces on the floor this year, Wilson said the name plate on the front of the jerseys still says Dover, and the new players will keep with the style the Senators have been known to play under his tenure.

“I think we’ll be able to compete in the conference again, we’ll be able to compete in our state,” he said. “We’ll see where the chips fall.”

Girls Basketball
2009-10 record: 12-5, 10-4
State tournament: No. 3 seed, lost to No. 6 Ursuline Academy, 63-54, in semifinals
Graduated seniors: 6
Opening game of 2010: 7:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, vs. Cape Henlopen High School

Sometimes when a sports program loses a lot of seniors it means that team falls into a rebuilding year.

That’s not the way Dover girls basketball Head Coach Thornton Spellman is looking at his group this year, however, as he sees the youthful roster as a benefit to the Senators.

“We’re going to be young and energetic this year,” Spellman said.

The youth doesn’t come without challenges, though as the coach said it’s more difficult to generate confidence in younger players that haven’t proven themselves yet.

Spellman said junior Nichelle Potter, a three-year varsity player, is leading the way right now for the new players and that he sees the pieces starting to fall into place.

“They’re so young and trying to keep them focused on what it takes to win is the goal right now,” he said. “They don’t understand yet that if you want to be a championship-caliber team you have to work harder than everyone else.”

Along with losing some experience, the Senators lost a bit of height to graduation as well. Spellman said the team’s style of play would change a bit to compensate for that loss.

“We’re going to try to use our guards more and utilize our quickness,” he said. “We’ll keep things relatively simple so they can pick it up.”

2009-10 record: 2-9, 0-9
State tournament: Failed to appear
Graduated seniors: 2
Opening match of 2010: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8, vs. Cape Henlopen High School

When competing in the Henlopen Conference in wrestling, it can be an uphill battle if your team isn’t named Caesar Rodney, Sussex Central or Smyrna.

Dover Head Coach Johnie Dove knows this and that is why he said in his second year leading the program, he wants to take the small steps to get better.

That means getting numbers up and winning matches against teams that barely beat the Senators a year ago, Dove said.

The team, he added, is already ahead of the schedule it was last season as the wrestlers have a year of familiarity with him under their belts.

“Last year we wasted a lot of time getting to know each other and didn’t come together until midway through the season,” Dove said. “We hit the ground running this year and started hard on day one.”

This season should just be another step forward in competing with the upper-level teams in the Henlopen, he said.

Dove has leveled expectations with his group though and said they need to realize that it will take time before Dover reaches that elite status.

“They set the bar for us,” he said. “We want to compete on that level someday but we can’t just walk in and turn on a light switch. We realize it’s baby steps.”

Boys Swimming
2009-10 record: 5-3, 4-3
State tournament: 12th overall in championship meet
Graduated seniors: 4
Opening meet of 2010: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, vs. Glasgow High School, at the Central Delaware YMCA

After losing its three top swimmers from a year ago, it’s open auditions on the Dover boys swimming squad this year for the next top performer.

While one swimmer may storm onto the scene this year and surprise people, Head Coach Molly Phillips said she is expecting it to be a number of kids that make up for the void.

That means, Phillips said, that if the Senators plan to equal or improve their team record from last year, the first-year swimmers from a year ago are going to need to step up and thrive in expanded roles.

“It was easy last year because we were going to score points,” she said. “So we need them to step up this year and make up for those points.”

Phillips said she still is trying to figure out whom to swim in which events before the season kicks off next week, but that she expects Dover to be ready to go for that first meet.

“The expectation is that we’re still going to compete and be a good team,” she said.

Girls Swimming
2009-10 record: 3-5, 2-5
State tournament: Failed to place
Graduated seniors: 5
Opening meet of 2010: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, vs. Glasgow High School, at the Central Delaware YMCA

Last winter did not go as well as the Dover girls swimming team would have liked, but with the new season approaching the Senators boast good numbers, some experience and a healthy group of swimmers.

Head Coach Molly Phillips said there are 20 girls on the team, about average, but with only a few graduated seniors Dover hasn’t had to worry about integrating a lot of new swimmers.

The Senators team this year, however, is not without additions, as Phillips said a couple of new freshmen that swim year round should help push the team up a notch.

With so much experience and so many solid swimmers on the roster, the coach said she has a decision to make on who is going to swim where.

“There are so many girls that I can put in any event,” Phillips said. “It’s just figuring out the best formula.”

The Senator schedule is frontloaded this year, with tough meets against Glasgow and Caesar Rodney high schools kicking things off.

Phillips said she prefers the tough meets up front because it lets the girls know what they need to work on going forward.

“We’d rather swim those teams early in the season when they’re still trying to figure out who’s going where,” she said. “And it also lets us know where we are.”

Email Brian Citino at brian.citino@doverpost.com