High school basketball: Big buzz as Royal boys, girls eye tournament games

Delmarva’s Josh Vonhoff (15) is the Royals’ tallest player at about 6-foot-6. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Nobody, outside of their opponents, knows much about Delmarva Christian boys’ basketball.

So most people believe the Royals will simply exit quietly in the DIAA state tournament.

And that’s just fine with Delmarva coach Micah Twedell.

“They realize they’re underdogs,” the second-year coach said about his players. “I told them, ‘Look, nobody expects you to do anything, so you’re playing with house money at this point.’”

The 20th-seeded Royals (19-2) will get their chance to earn some attention tonight when they play at No. 13 Tower Hill (14-6) in the opening round of the boys’ state tournament. The matchup is one of eight first-round games, all starting at 7 p.m.

Kandice Schlabach and her Delmarva Christian girls’ basketball teammates will host Ursuline in the first round of the DIAA state tournament on Wednesday night. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

But the basketball excitement doesn’t end there for Delmarva Christian, the 15-year-old high school of over 200 students in Georgetown.

On Wednesday night, the Royals’ girls’ basketball squad will host mighty Ursuline — the 17-time state champion — in the first round of that state tournament. While schools having teams in both tourneys isn’t that uncommon — there are 10 this year — it’s believed to be only the second time it’s happened for Delmarva Christian.

“There’s a pretty big buzz around school,” said athletic director Jim Berger. “When the brackets were announced, I think everybody around campus was pretty excited.”

“The exciting thing is, we’re going to play tomorrow night,” Twedell said on Monday. “And win or lose, we’ll be able to cheer on our girls on Wednesday,”

Most small schools are close-knit. Berger said 79 percent of the student body played at least one sport last school year while over 40 percent played three.

Delmarva Christian’s boys faced Dover last season. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

For the Royals’ boys, this is their first time in the state tournament since 2009.

Of course the nice thing about being an underdog is that it’s pretty easy just to focus on that one game. Twedell said none of his players should get caught looking ahead.

“To be honest, our guys aren’t thinking ‘Who’s after Tower Hill?’” he said. “We’re thinking about Tower Hill. We’re literally taking things one game at a time.”

Making the state tournament is a little more of a regular occurrence for Delmarva’s girls, who have a first-year head coach in Jedidiah Roach. This will be the Royals’ fifth-straight trip to the tourney — although they are 0-4 in that span.

Certainly, getting the chance to host a program like No. 17 Ursuline (7-11) is an unusual opportunity for No. 16 Delmarva (16-5). While the Raiders are having an off season, they did just win three state crowns in a row (2015-17).

The Royals and junior Mara Agapito have posted a record of 16-5 this winter. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

“I think they know they’re up for a challenge,” Berger said about the Royals. “But I think they’re excited just for the opportunity.

“This is a great platform for us,” he added. “We’ve got hard-working kids. I like to tell people, we have the best of both worlds. We’re in a small conference where we compete very well. But then we also have the opportunities, when the season’s go right, to play on a bigger stage like the DIAA state tournament. Our kids love this time of the year.”

Whatever happens this week, both Royals’ squads have already won Eastern Shore Christian Interscholastic Athletic Conference titles.

Still, the state tournament is an opportunity for Delmarva Christian’s basketball teams to get noticed by a wider audience.

Twedell points out that the Royals did play both St. Georges and Dover last season.

“So at least most of my guys have played against some really tough teams,” he said. “I’m hoping they know what to expect and know what they need to bring to the table.

“We’re excited to be there and we realize we’re playing a very good team. … I told the guys, you guys have no pressure on you. Nobody expects you to win so you’ve got to come in there with a lot of energy.”

Notes

• The three Henlopen Conference schools with teams in both the boys’ and girls’ state tournaments are Lake Forest, Sussex Tech and Woodbridge.

• Lake Forest’s boys’ first-round matchup with Christiana is a rematch of last year’s first round. The Spartans won that contest, 74-53, but their two leading scorers from that game, Isaiah Morris and Thomas Hoskins, both graduated.

The Vikings’ Jah-Keish Demby who netted a game-high 24 points a year ago, on the other hand, is still only a sophomore.

• Opening-round opponents Woodbridge and Mt. Pleasant shouldn’t have to do much scouting. The two squads just played on Thursday, with the Green Knights winning 64-48.

• First-round foes Milford and Sussex Tech may both be members of the Henlopen Conference. But they haven’t played in boys’ basketball since 2013 when both were members of the Henlopen North.

Of course, with Milford going back into the North next school year, tonight’s meeting will just be the first of a renewed rivalry.

• Of the 24 teams in the girls’ bracket, 11 are from private schools. Only eight of the 24 teams from the boys’ side are from non-public schools.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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