Smyrna boys fine with underdog status

Smyrna’s Nashon Sylvester goes for a layup between two Milford defenders at Smyrna. The Eagles host Caesar Rodney today. and Dover on Friday. Both games begin at 7 p.m. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — Maybe it was inevitable that the Smyrna High boys’ basketball team took a step back last season.

After losing most of their star players, it was really difficult for the Eagles to stay at a level that took them to the program’s first two appearances in the DIAA state finals.

And sure enough, rebuilding Smyrna finished only 8-12 last winter and missed the state tourney for the first time since 2014.

Coach Andrew Mears doesn’t know how many stars he has on this year’s squad. He just knows he likes the way the Eagles play.

“This group’s practices are sometimes as intense as the games that we play,” he said. “So that’s refreshing, as a coach. And a lot of it is just due to our overall depth.

“I don’t feel like we’ve got a lot of ego. We don’t have any All-Staters. I feel like we just have a collection of guys where anybody can step in. It’s a next-man-up mentality.”

So while Dover is still the Henlopen Conference’s marquee squad this winter, Smyrna has quietly gotten itself back on track. The Eagles are 6-1 in the Henlopen North, 9-2 overall with a seven-game winning streak.

Smyrna will get the chance to make people notice them again this week when it hosts Caesar Rodney (6-2, 7-3) today at 7 p.m. before hosting Dover (8-0, 11-1) on Friday at 7 p.m.

Smyrna head coach Andrew Mears discusses strategy with the team. (File photo)

The Eagles lost to the Senators just 70-66 on Dec. 10. That’s the closest any Henlopen North has come to beating Dover since December, 2018, when Smyrna also lost to the Senators by just four.

“After that year, everybody stopped worrying about us,” said senior Izaiah Credle. “A couple people got hurt and we had a bad season. Everybody just forgot about Smyrna.

“But we’re still here. We’re still working — even when nobody’s looking, we’re working.”

“I feel like everybody looks at us as undersized,” said senior Nahshon Sylvester. “We don’t have the players. Every other team has the best guards.

“We like it, though. We can compete with anybody, in my eyes. We like to prove everybody wrong.”

Smyrna’s Izaiah Credle shoots against St. Georges in the second quarter during the Rumble by the River basketball tourney at St. Georges High School. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Smyrna’s only losses this year have been to Dover and an an 8-3 Caravel squad early in the season. The Eagles haven’t lost a game since Dec. 17.

Sylvester agrees that what Smyrna may lack in sheer talent, it makes up for in hard work.

“Everybody is so close together,” he said. “Our teamwork is amazing. There’s not like one specific player (leading the way). That’s the best thing about it.”

“A combination between some young talent and experienced seniors has made for a deep and pretty competitive bunch,” said Mears.

Despite losing the first meeting with Dover, that game also showed that the Eagles that they were going to be pretty good this season.

Smyrna led by seven after the first quarter only to have the Senators out-score it by 14 in the second quarter. But the Eagles battled back within just a point going into the fourth quarter.

“Our guys weren’t afraid of them going in,” said Mears. “Being so close and it’s such a rivalry, regardless of how good one team is, I just feel like it’s always a competitive game. Chalk that (first game) up to it being early in the season and both teams were trying to find their way.

“We have a lot of respect for the players on that team. It’s been a solid month and a half between the first and second matchup. I’ll be excited to see what we both look like.”

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Smyrna after the Dover game. The Eagles play six of their last seven regular-season games on the road, including a rematch with CR and non-conference dates at Salesianum and William Penn.

As long as his players stay humble and hard-working, though, Mears will be happy.

“We do have an underdog mentality — just for the fact that we have nothing to show for all the hard work,” he said. “Outside of wins in the win column, we don’t have a lot to show for it. I think our guys are hungry.

“We fought through adversity last year. We’re starting to see some of the fruits of that labor now.”

Free throws

• After knocking off Henlopen South rivals Seaford and Woodbridge in back-to-back games, Laurel’s boys’ basketball team (10-2) takes an eight-game winning streak into today’s 5:45 p.m. home game with Indian River. The Bulldogs are in the middle of a stretch of six straight home games.

• Lake Forest’s boys have won four straight to improve to 5-4 overall. The Spartans host ECHS@DSU today at 6 p.m. They’ve hit 26 three-pointers in just their last two games with Jaysem Vazquez sinking nine and Tyrone Tolson adding eight.

• With their big 86-82 win over Cardinal O’Hara on Saturday night, Dover’s boys went 3-1 vs. out-of-state teams this season.

• Cape Henlopen’s girls (9-3 overall) are 9-0 against Delaware teams this winter.