There was a little more pep on the sidelines of Indian River High School football games last fall, thanks to head cheerleading coach Caitlyn Donofrio. And now she’s bringing that energy, and her squad, to the competitive level.
It had been two years since the school participated at cheer preliminaries, but despite their lack of experience as a squad, they not only placed second at the competition at Lake Forest High School on Jan. 18, but did it again last Sunday, Jan. 25, at St. Mark’s in Wilmington, qualifying for states in March.
“They are so proud of themselves, and I’m very proud of them, as well,” said Donofrio of the achievement. “It just shows that our hard work pays off.”
While they may have placed in the same position at both of the recent competitions, Donofrio said that her squad appeared more confident the second time around, which allowed them to try some different stunts and a more advanced routine.
Break out those regulation beanbags, because the Indian River High School football and baseball boosters are hosting their first annual cornhole tournament next Saturday, Feb. 7.
And on a Monday, the Indian River School District school board said, “Let there be lax.”
For many, a girls’ lacrosse program at Indian River High School has been a long time coming, but at last Monday’s school board meeting, those advocating for the sport finally got it done.
“I’m definitely excited. I knew Indian River didn’t have it when I started here,” said Indian River freshman and lifelong “laxer” Kealey Allison. “I’ve been really nervous. I’ve played lacrosse since I was little. I didn’t know what I was going to do in the spring.”
“It’s really cool. I’m just so happy to try something new,” added senior Taylor Billinger, who has been playing with the school’s former lacrosse club. “It was just great to hear that it passed. Finally, I get to do something in the spring and not be bored.”
Before you say anything about how “Pro Bore” when referring to the Pro Bowl isn’t my best work when it comes to wordplay — cut me some slack, I just got over the flu.
It starts with the numbers: 39 years of coaching with the Indian River High School football program. A 31-14 record during his four-year career as head coach at the high school. Three Henlopen South titles and three DIAA playoff appearances as head coach. One Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year award, one State Coach of the Year award, one Tubby Raymond Outstanding Coach of the Year award, and, most importantly, a 2011 DIAA state championship.
When looking at it, long-tenured Indians’ football coach Ray Steele’s résumé seems to be, well... set in steel. But after all the accolades and achievements, the wins, the losses and a lifetime dedicated to coaching, Steele announced last month that he’ll be hanging it up and letting someone else begin their own legacy at Indian River.
“I thought this was probably as good a time as any,” said Steele of his decision — “39 years, I think it’s time to go sit in the stands and enjoy it.”
The Indian River High School basketball team has been plagued by last-minute losses this season, but after snapping a two-game losing streak with a 70-61 victory against Lake Forest last Tuesday, the team is ready to put those close calls behind them. In fact, according to senior guard Shaquille Hall, their season is just beginning, as the division win marks the start of a new streak.
“That’s what we’re naming this comeback, ‘Start the streak,’” said Hall of the team’s mindset going forward.
“We’ve had a rough patch, and we lost some real close ones,” said head coach Mike Fabber. “Cape [Henlopen] was a four-point game with two minutes left. We didn’t score in minute 45, and they made every free throw, so the score didn’t show how the game was.”
Despite the strong finish, the Indians started Tuesday’s game slow, falling behind 12-2 before head coach Mike Fabber called an uncharacteristic first-quarter time-out.
“They came out sluggish, and I called a time-out, which I don’t like to do,” Fabber explained. “I try to save them for late-game situations if we need them. I think we were too hype. We were turning it over, missing easy shots.”
The Lady Indians missed a chance to better their playoff chances last Saturday, falling short against Delmarva Christian Academy in a tight game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
Down 4-0 in a low-scoring first quarter, Indian River High School senior point guard Taylor Billinger ended the drought by draining a shot from long-range, to make it 4-3. Billinger would eventually tie the game at 10, after nailing her second-three pointer of night, before DCA took off on a 8-0 run in the second quarter.
After tying the game at 18, freshman guard Keeley Allison drew a foul and went one-for-two from the line to give Indian River their first lead of the night. She would notch a steal and score on a fast break in the second half, right before pulling down a rebound and finding senior forward Tashara Houston under the net, to give the Lady Indians a 40-39 lead.
Indian River Cheer to compete in Wilmington
The Indian River High School competitive cheer team advanced from the preliminary competition held at Lake Forest High School last Sunday and will compete at another preliminary competition this Sunday at St. Marks High School in Wilmington at 10 a.m.
Tennis ability is runs deep for 10-year old Julianna Johnston. Her father, Sea Colony Tennis Director Thomas Johnston, was a three-time All-American at Pomona Pitzer College, as well as the University of Virginia Men’s Tennis Team.
That 2015 resolution can be a healthy one when people start their exercise routines to get ready to run or walk the annual Ten Sisters of Dewey Beach Run/Walk Series 2015, which will begin on May 25 and end with the 39th Bottle and Cork 10-mile run.
Since Thomas Johnston took over as tennis director at Sea Colony near Bethany Beach five years ago, his hard work, expertise and dedication has lead the club to a Top 50 tennis resort ranking, a ranking as Tennis Resorts Online’s No. 12 adult tennis camp, and even being named as the United States Tennis Association Outstanding Facility of the Year in 2012.
Clearly the NCAA hasn’t seen any of the Terminator movies because for more than 15 years they let a computer system run the show with what they liked to call “The BCS” playoff system. And much like the decision to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film, and his eight-year stint as the governor of California, for that matter, the end result was pretty terrible.
Last week, we were looking ahead to New Year’s Eve and looking back at the 2014 sports year. This week is just the opposite as the ball has dropped and questions about what the new year will bring for local sports loom.
After leading for the majority of the game last Tuesday night, things began to unravel in the third quarter for the Indian River High School basketball team as division-rival Laurel took a late fourth quarter lead and held on for a 57-48 win.
Jumping out to a 15-8 lead by the end of the first quarter, and 28-21 lead at the half, the Indians’ offense took a hit when senior point guard and leading scorer Kei Juan Major fouled out on a technical mid-way through the third quarter.
“We just had to play around where Kei Juan’s points would have came from and then the calls weren’t going our way,” explained senior guard Shaquille Hall. “[Laurel] could play their regular defense. We had some open opportunities but we just couldn’t do it. We tried to fight through it.”
“We got a little stagnant, when your main ball handler, one of the guys that is responsible for a lot of your set plays, a lot of the motion work you do — when you lose them for a whole quarter, of course, it’s tough,” added Fabber. “But we’re, ‘next man up.’ We’ve got 12 guys that can play basketball. Last year we lost Kei Juan for the last three games, won two of them, so we just play.”
Without freshman forward Tashara Houston and freshman center Latayja Atkins, the Lady Indians basektball team has been doing just fine. Headed into last Tuesday’s game at Laurel, they were riding a three-game win streak and having no problem putting up points in the process.
However, the return of their two best rebounders played a large role in continuing that win streak, as the team jumped out to a 34-15 lead at halftime, and dominated the boards on their way to a 51-42 victory.
“Tashara just killed the offensive glass tonight,” said head coach Matt Mayette. “We got a lot of opportunities which is great for this team.”
Not only did Houston perform well on the boards, but also led the Lady Indians in scoring with 14 points, as well, as she continues to try and get back to health after an LCL strain.
“She’s still battling through,” said Mayette.
Every year I make the same New Year’s resolutions. This year, I’m going to volunteer more. This year, I’m going to eat healthier. This year, I’m going to write more interesting columns and not turn them in at the last minute before press deadline. But, just like most New Year’s resolutions, they never seem to pan out.
The Indian River High School basketball team didn’t know much about Maryland opponent Catoctin High School headed into Monday’s Governor’s Challenge matchup, but that didn’t stop them jumping out to a quick lead and never looking back.
“We didn’t know anything about them, so we just went hard,” said senior guard Shaquille Hall after the 77-44 Indians’ victory.
“We just stuck together and played our game,” added senior guard Da’Von Justice. “Coach just told us to play our game and play how we usually play.”
The tone for how the Indians “usually play” was set early on, when senior center DeAndre Cooper grabbed an offensive rebound and put it away, to make it 2-0. Senior guard Kei Juan Major would knock down a three-pointer shortly afterwards, as the Indians made their way to a 17-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Well, another year is in the record books, Sussex County sports fans — and, like always, local athletes and teams marked their pages in those record books.
Looking back, 2014 was a big year for us. We saw a Little League Softball World Series between two teams from our home state broadcast live on ESPN from Roxana, several youth feeder programs were launched, Indian River grad Jamie Jarmon left baseball to attend the University of Delaware and pursue football, and world renowned pro skater Bob Burquinst and pro surfer Kalani Robb even stopped by some of our local beaches for the Dew Tour and the Catch Surf Tour.
So, even though we were there to document it all, we decided to recap some of the major sports news from 2014. And for the sake of conventionalism, let’s start it off with January...
Seattle has the 12th Man. Cleveland has the Dawg Pound. South Africa has those weird vuvuzela horns they used during the World Cup. And now, Indian River High School has their own official student section cheering on the Indians this basketball season.
Missed bonus points and a forfeit at heavyweight was the difference last Wednesday night, as Delmar narrowly escaped Indian River with a one-point win on the mats, 39-38.
“I knew coming in bonus points were gonna make the difference in the dual. We had some matches that I thought we should have had go our way, we ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, it happens,” explained Indian River head coach Jeff Windish. “Forfeiting heavy weight hurts, especially in a tight dual like this.”
Despite the eventual defeat with no one to compete at the 285-pound weight class, the Indians started off on the right track in the lighter weight classes. Sophomore Jessie O’Neal managed a pin in 1:30 at 106 pounds, with fellow sophomore Jared Arlett getting the technical fall, 17-1, in the next class up, and junior Mitchell Bolton winning his match, 9-6, at 120.
After a tough loss to Division I powerhouse Sussex Tech last week, the Indian River High School basketball team made a statement with a 65-46 win against Seaford, to improve to 3-2 on the season and 2-1 in the Henlopen South heading into the Governor’s Challenge.
With the Blue Jays taking away the Indians’ leading scorer — senior guard Kei Juan Major — early on under heavy coverage, it was senior guard Shaquille Hall and junior forward DeAndre Cooper who stepped up, with Hall finding Cooper under the basket for the first score of the game.
With the Indians leading narrowly, 10-9, after the first quarter, Major would generate some momentum by draining his first three-pointer of the night, sparking a 12-0 run.
“They were keying on me for the start of the game, so I knew it was going to be difficult for me to get the shot off,” said Major of the momentum swing.
“The guys did a good job not freaking out at the beginning, seeing the box in one,” added Indian River head coach Mike Fabber. “We knew it was gonna come at some point. We just didn’t know when. At the quarter break, we drew up what we were gonna do against it, and obviously it worked [well] enough to get them out of it.”
A block by junior guard KiAnté Sturgis would set up another three-pointer from Major, who capped off the first half with a steal that he took all the way back for the score, to put the Indians up 35-11.
“It really started with defense,” Fabber went on to explain of his squad’s impressive second quarter. “We got those easy opportunities, those steals that we live on.”
The Indian River High School girls’ basketball team had one goal headed into winter break: to have a winning record. With three consecutive victories after starting the season 1-3 — including a 49-32 win at Seaford and 38-30 win at St. Peter and Paul — the Lady Indians have achieved that goal and now sit well positioned for the rest of the season.
“If we could get four wins, we thought we’d be in great shape,” said head coach Matt Mayette of his team’s 4-3 overall record.
After rolling Red Lion last week, the Lady Indians then hit the road to face Seaford in a divisional matchup last Thursday, Dec. 18.
The scoring started off slow in that game, with both teams only managing seven first-quarter points collectively and Indian River leading 6-1.
The rank of Eagle Scout has been the goal for Indian River High School sophomore John Keller since he was 10 years old, and after building a much-needed bridge for the school’s cross-country team, he’s now well on his way to achieving that goal when he goes in front the Eagle board this January.
“My No. 1 goal was always to get Eagle,” said Keller. “By the end of January, I will have gone up for my Eagle board, and I’m hoping by maybe March I’ll have it.”
However, Keller didn’t build the bridge solely to get his Eagle Scout badge — he built it because Indian River cross-country head coach Frank Ryman asked him to help improve the course.
“The main reason was this was definitely an area that they need to get across for the cross-country team,” explained Keller. “They needed to get across to the other side, instead of having to go all the way down and back. It made it two miles shorter. Just in case there was ever an emergency, it’s easier to get across.”
It’s been more than a decade since Slam Dunk to the Beach has brought some of the nation’s best high school basketball talent to Delaware, but this weekend, the three-day tournament is finally set to return, after an 11-year hiatus.
“A lot of people are coming together to make this thing happen,” said Slam Dunk to the Beach and Delaware Sports Commission Chairman Matthew Robison. “I’ve been so happy with the receptiveness of the basketball community in the state [and] the business community in the state. We want to live up to that and make sure they benefit.”
Coming across the nation, 11 teams, as well as five teams from Delaware (Cape Henlopen, Caesar Rodney, St. Georges, Salesianum and Sanford) will all compete in the 16-team tournament being held at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes from Saturday, Dec. 27, through Monday, Dec. 29.
Some other noteworthy teams participating include 2013-2014 New Jersey State Champions Roselle Catholic High School (Roselle, N.J.); USA Today’s No. 9-ranked team for 2013, Our Savior New American School (Centereach, N.Y.); and NBA star LeBron James’ alma-mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School (Akron, Ohio).
The arrival of some of the nation’s best teams will, of course, bring some of the nation’s best players, including ESPN’s 2015 No. 7 overall player, power forward Cheick Diallo (Our Savior New American School); 2015 No. 13 overall player, No. 1 point guard and Kentucky commit Isaiah Briscoe; and 2016 No. 14 and No. 35 overall players shooting guards Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard’s School) and Rawle Alkins (Christ the King High School).
The 3rd Annual Camp Barnes Wrestling Classic will be held on Saturday, Dec. 27, at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown, with wrestling beginning at 9:30 a.m.
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America has named Delmarva Christian High School’s girls’ soccer coach, Scott Esposito, as Regional Coach of the Year for the Atlantic Region. Esposito will be receiving the award in January when the NSCAA hosts its annual convention in Philadelphia.
I don’t usually bring up politics. Partly because this is a sports column, but mostly because I twice failed “Introduction to American Politics and Government” during my one-year stint at community college. In my defense, I didn’t go to class very often because I was busy surfing, which is a sport, and considering that I’m now a sports reporter, I’d say it all worked out for the best.