After tough ending, Senators ready for a new start

Coach Stephen Wilson and the Dover High boys’ basketball team had their season canceled stopped prematurely last March by the pandemic. Delaware State News file photos

DOVER — As he talked, Stephen Wilson was multi-tasking.

On one device, the Dover High boys’ basketball coach was watching former Senator Elijah Allen play for Wagner.

And on another device, Wilson was watching Dover grad Eden Davis play for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

“There’s a lot of things they say we don’t do at Dover,” said Wilson, “but what other school can say they’re watching their All-State backcourt on TV at the next level right now?”

In a perfect world for the Senators, Wilson would have been able to send Allen, Davis and their fellow senior teammates off to college with a state championship on their resume.

But that’s not the way it worked out, of course.

With Dover set to face St. Andrews in the DIAA boys’ state semifinals in early March, the coronavirus pandemic erupted both locally and nationally. After officials first tried to find a way to play the boys’ and girls’ State Finals Fours, they were finally canceled.

It was a crushing moment for all eight teams involved. On the girls’ side, Cape Henlopen had also reached the semifinals.

The unforeseen ending just seemed especially tough to swallow for Dover, which had a senior-ladden squad and had just lost in the state finals by only three points the year before.

With a new season poised to begin — teams hope — on Jan. 12, Wilson knows it’s time to turn the page and move on with a new group of players. He also knows the pain and frustration from the way last season ended may always be there.

“I can’t lie, it’s with me,” Wilson said about the disappointment. “It’s with me. It motivates me a little bit. It’s always there.

“But now it’s time for me to get Elijah’s brother ready. It’s time to get Eden’s brother and the rest of the guys ready. Our goal’s not changed because we’ve lost who we lost.”

Despite losing most of his top players to graduation, Wilson is optimistic about Dover’s young players.

Clearly, the expectations from the outside world won’t be anywhere near as lofty after Dover lost a talented group of seniors that also included Jy’Heim Spencer, Wanya Wise and Shamir Nelson. Four of the five seniors earned All-State honors.

Over the last two seasons, Dover went 45-3, including a 5-1 mark in the state tournament, and captured a pair of Henlopen Conference championships.

Still, Wilson thinks the Senators have a great deal of talent in the program. For him, it’s just a question of when it all comes together.

Dover had eight underclassmen on its roster at the end of last season. That included four sophomores and three freshmen.
This winter, the Senators expect to have just one senior in guard Caesar Gilbert.

Wilson adds that he’s been pleased with the young group’s academic performance, too.

“People are going to be excited to see what we’ve got,” said Wilson. “And I think that they’re going to be pleased — sooner (rather) than later. Let’s say we go under the radar this year, it’s not going to go under the radar for too much more. There’s talent in there.

“I think the system is intact. I think if we keep on doing the things that we’re doing, eventually we’ll get the recognition. You’ve got to earn it.”

Right now, Dover’s toughest opponent might still be the one it couldn’t get past last March — COVID-19.

For the moment, the delayed winter season will be allowed to begin on Jan. 12. But that could change based on the state’s evolving COVID-19 statistics.

As the fall season showed, there’s also the chance for game cancellations based on positive virus test results.

Henlopen Conference teams are slated to play only teams in their division. For the Senators, their 14-game regular season consists of home and away dates against the other seven schools in the Northern Division.

The Senators are scheduled to start with three road games, beginning with a Jan. 12 date at Sussex Central. Winter-sports teams have been permitted to practice since early December.

“Right now we’re just worrying about the 12th,” said Wilson. “If it changes, we’ve got to go with the changes. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve just got to be ready when they tell us we can get on the court.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. But I like the direction we’re going. We haven’t turned the corner but the kids are really working.”

When it’s all said and done, the Senators know there’s nothing they can do to change the way last season ended. But the future is still waiting to be written.

“It’s always going to be with you a little bit,” Wilson said about last year. “It’s with the guys. And our new guys, even the ones that weren’t there, some of them were on that ride with us, too.

“Now they want to make their own story. I think we have a group that’s going to be able to make a story, too.”