(Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories leading up to the start of the York-Adams winter sports season).
There was a common notion among the York-Adams League Division II boys' basketball coaches during the league's winter sports media day on Saturday, Nov. 11.
The coaches believe that there's a clear-cut favorite within their division heading into the 2017-18 season.
While most of them felt confident about their own teams being contenders, they gave Dover the nod as the team to beat in the division this year.
That makes perfect sense. The Eagles are the reigning D-II champions, and it's not uncommon for the defending title holders to enter as preseason favorites, or at least be near the top.
Last season's Dover squad, however, wasn't your typical team loaded with seniors poised for a breakout campaign. In fact, there wasn't one senior on last season's team that went 14-11 overall and 10-2 in division play. The Eagles consisted of all sophomores and juniors, some of whom were in their second year of varsity action. They were playing big minutes and producing. Now, with each one returning, they're ready to defend their crown.
"We have a big target on our back from last year as (division) champs," junior forward Elijah Sutton said at media day.
Plenty of returners: The last time the Eagles won a division crown was in 2011-12, so it's been five seasons since the last time they entered a year with something to defend.
The players on this year's team understand the target is on their backs, not just for the first few games, but for the whole season. In order for one of the other teams to win the division, it must first unseat Dover.
That'll mean trying to upend a starting lineup and sixth man, all returning, that accounted for 62.5 points per game a year ago and have only gotten better during the offseason.
"We had a good offseason and I feel like this year should be better than last year," senior guard Brady Bowman said at media day. "We want to go further. We want to keep doing what we did last year and move on."
Adding depth: What was impressive about the Eagles' season in 2016-17 was the fact that they accomplished so much with a short bench. After being hit with a pair of serious injuries to then-juniors Andrew Hoffman and Chase Heath, which drastically shortened the rotation, Dover kept pushing forward and finding ways to win.
It may have been youthful naiveté, but the Eagles didn't know any different. They just went out and tried to play harder than their opponent every single night.
"They were one of the hardest-working teams that I've had here in my 13 years," head coach Brian Schmoyer said. "In practice, in games, in the offseason, they work extremely hard. Every day, they come into the gym with the mindset that we have to be better with our intensity."
Potential challengers: Don't expect Dover to run away with the division, however. While only Eastern York joined the Eagles in finishing above .500 last season, D-II should be much more competitive this year.
Kennard-Dale is in the midst of a resurgence after having its best season in years in 2016-17. Much like Dover, the Rams return nearly everyone from a season ago, including one of the top pure scorers in the entire Y-A League, Adam Freese.
Then there's the Golden Knights, who always have high standards, despite being extremely young this season.
West York will be in the same boat as Eastern with lots of youth, but those players all have significant varsity experience.
All of those teams will give the Eagles a serious challenge.
Valuable postseason experience: As a result of winning D-II, Dover earned itself some valuable postseason experience, qualifying for both the Y-A League and District 3 5-A playoffs.
While both tournaments saw the Eagles go one-and-done, it was crucial in the development of the players to get a feel for what postseason play is like, especially considering the team will be expected to make return appearances at the end of this season.
"Coach said at the beginning of the season last year that we had to grow up quick," said Bowman, who finished second on the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game. "By that time, we were already grown up, but it helped us so that this year, if we get to the playoffs, we know what to expect and we know how we can play and that we can hang with these guys."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org