High school basketball: Rebuilding Panthers eye improvement

WOODSIDE — They weren’t out on the court with Polytech High’s boys’ basketball team two years ago.

But watching the Panthers go to their first state championship game was pretty exciting stuff for the young players in the program.

“It was crazy seeing the guys I play with all the time on that huge stage,” said Miguel Rivera, who was a sophomore JV player at the time. “I was wishing I was out there.”

Unfortunately for those youngsters, when they did get their chance last season, things don’t very well.

A year after finishing second in the state and posting a record of 23-2, Polytech finished just 4-16. Any hopes of returning to the DIAA state tournament vanished quickly.

Even though Polytech lost a talented group of seniors from the state finalist squad, coach John Pierce’s team graduated another class of 10 seniors after last season. The Panthers essentially are rebuilding for a second-straight year. (Delaware State News file photo)

It’s only now that the Panthers are finally starting to get their feet underneath them again. They’re 4-2 with a four-game winning streak heading into the Christmas break.

They’ve already matched their win total for all last season.

That 4-16 campaign wasn’t much fun for anybody, of course.

“We had the talent to win more than four games and make the playoffs,” said senior Jaeden Dungee. “(But) we had a five-game losing streak and I guess players just gave up. I was really defeated because I know we were better than what we were last year.”

Even though Polytech lost a talented group of seniors from the state finalist squad, it graduated another class of 10 seniors after last season. The Panthers essentially are rebuilding for a second-straight year.

Veteran coach John Pierce wasn’t sure what to expect from this season’s squad.

“Definitely, I was worried about us,” he said. “I might have had one or two guys that played a little bit of varsity last year. It’s basically a bunch of new guys.

“But I’m encouraged. I know we’re going to have our ups and downs because of the inexperience, but I’m looking forward to it.”

“We just had to have a whole mentality — it’s a whole new year,” said Rivera. “Last year, the effort was there but the execution wasn’t.”

Carter Chasanov is one of Polytech’s senior players. (Delaware State News file photo)

While starting on Polytech’s varsity may be a new experience for a lot of this year’s players, Dungee said he, Rivera and fellow senior Carter Chasanov all played together at Caesar Rodney’s Postlethwait Middle School. There are six seniors on this year’s squad.

Rivera netted 24 points in the Panthers’ 61-58 victory over Brandywine while Dungee netted 26 points in a 66-58 loss to Cape Henlopen.

“Some of the guys that we have this year I’ve been playing with since I was in sixth grade,” said Dungee. “So we had a lot of chemistry. I knew we had the potential to make the playoffs.

“We’re more of a team. We’re not an ‘I’ and ‘me’ kind of team. We actually pass the ball, run our plays and look out for each other.”

“Winning is always fun,” said Rivera. “It’s just team chemistry, sharing the ball, knowing where we’re at on defense, helping each other out — that kind of thing. We’re getting to know how to play with each other better.”

The Panthers’ biggest obstacle at the moment might be the fact that after beating Howard, 68-64, on Saturday, they don’t play again until Jan. 3 when they host Smyrna.

Pierce knows that getting in a good week of practice before vacation starts will be important if Polytech wants to hang onto its momentum,

“It feels really good to actually be on a winning streak,” said Dungee. “We haven’t had that in forever. I feel like we’re just going to keep working as a team.”

“The rest is always good but the momentum is definitely going to ease up a little bit,” said Rivera. “It’s not a bad thing, though. We can still keep it going.

“We’ve just got to keep the right mindset and still work hard.”

Free throws

St. Elizabeth certainly bounced back from its season-opening 50-48, overtime loss to Caear Rodney in girls’ basketball. The Vikings turned around and downed Sussex Central, 90-24, on Saturday. St. E’s continues its tour of the Henlopen North with a 7:15 p.m. game today at Dover. … Sophomore Aniah Patterson is averaging just over 20 points a game for the 3-1 St. Thomas More girls’ squad. … Caesar Rodney’s boys will go a month — from Dec. 13 to Jan. 12 — without playing a home game. … Dover’s boys get to face legendary Baltimore program Dunbar on Dec. 29 (3:15 p.m.) as part of the Governor’s Challenge in Salisbury’s Wicomico Civic Center.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.