CR lax duo just coming into their own as seniors

CR midfielder Sean Wooleyhand was a first-team All-Henlopen Conference selection laast spring. Delaware State News file photos

CAMDEN — Sean Wooleyhand has known for a while that the game wouldn’t be played.

But the Caesar Rodney High senior midfielder still knew the Riders were supposed to play Cape Henlopen on Wednesday night.

The showdown with the Vikings is always one of CR’s biggest games of the year. And the fact that Cape Henlopen is the defending state champion only made it bigger.

“I count down the days for every game,” said Wooleyhand. “They just never come.

“We’ve had that game circled on our calendar all year,” he added.

In a perfect sports world, players like Wooleyhand and teammate Jackson Phillips would be in the middle of their senior seasons right now. But the coronavirus pandemic had other ideas.

Both players were coming into their own after making third-team All-State honors a year ago.

Four years ago, Phillips — a long-pole defender — was trying to decide between focusing on lacrosse or basketball. He was on the Riders’ varsity lacrosse team as a freshman but he missed Saturday practices to play AAU basketball.

“We knew he was going to be a good player, but he was just raw,” said CR coach Brooks Johnson. “You could see the athleticism and the work ethic.

Riders’ defender Jackson Phillips is headed for Division I Mount St. Mary’s in the fall.

“He has a Division I skillset. He’s very rangy and quick on his feet. Even if an opponent is smaller or quicker than he is, he’s able to make up for that with his great footwork.”

By his sophomore year, Phillips started every game but two for the Riders. He was beginning to figure out that he might have a future in lacrosse.

In the summer after his junior year, Phillips started playing travel lacrosse — and colleges started noticing. Now he’s headed to NCAA Division I Mount St Mary’s on a partial athletic scholarship.

“Actually, it’s kind of funny,” said the 6-foot-3 Phillips, who played basketball at CR through his junior year. “When I was young, I really liked basketball. But, my sophomore and junior year, I was like ‘Lacrosse is really my thing.’

“It is sort of surprising, but not really, though. My sophomore year is when I realized I’m putting all this work into lacrosse because I could actually be something.”

A second-team All-Henlopen Conference pick as a junior, Phillips collected 35 caused turnovers and 51 groundballs.

After going up against him in practice for the past three seasons, Wooleyhand can tell you how tenacious a defender that Phillips is.

“He hates to lose just as much as the next guy,” said Wooleyhand. “That’s just kind of the culture of our team — everybody is (competitive). He’s just kind of the leader of the group and sets that standard for everyone else.”

Likewise, Jackson would tell you that Wooleyhand has been difficult to shut down in practice.

Sean Wooleyhand is hoping to continue his playing career at Salisbury.

Wooleyhand really took off as a junior when he got an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier. He now stands 6-foot-4, 210 pounds.

“Sean’s a big guy now,” said Phillips. “He’s just a real fundamental, smart player. Once he gets that open field, he’s just a hard guy to stop, to be honest with you.”

Wooleyhand made first-team All-Henlopen Conference last spring. He was the Riders’ Offensive MVP, finishing with 42 goals and 13 assists.

At one point, Wooleyhand wasn’t sure if he was going to try to play in college. Now he’s hoping to continue his career at NCAA Division III power Salisbury.

“He really took a step forward last year, being a leader first and then a playmaker with his production out of the midfield,” said Johnson. “He was a guy that we were very excited about.

“He had a good year last year. But, for him, it wasn’t good enough. I think that’s a tribute to his character. In the off-season, he had really showed it. He was hungry, more than ever, to make an impact this year.”

A year ago, the Riders finished 12-6 and reached the DIAA state semifinals. They won 11 of their last 14 games.

With nine seniors on this year’s roster, CR thought it was ready to make another run at a state title.

Along with Phillips and Wooleyhand, midfielder Jimmy Cava was another senior who had been on varsity since his freshman year. He’d battled through some injuries to score the game-winning goal in a state quarterfinal win over Tatnall last season.

Phillips and Wooleyhand have been playing together since they were in fifth grade. They’re looking forward to seeing what the other one will do in college.

“I’m so pumped for him,” said Wooleyhand. “I know he’s really excited for it and that makes me really excited.”

“If he didn’t (keep playing), I would feel like he’d be doing a disservice to himself,” said Phillips.

Of course, the two players really wanted the chance to see what they could have done as seniors at CR. But, in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be.

“All you can do right now is look back on all the good times you had,” said Phillips. “You’re never going to get those days back.

“You can’t take anything for granted because that can be taken away from you that easily, like our season did.”