It may have been their second loss of the season, but so far on that season, there’s only been one team able to take down Indian River High School’s girls’ soccer team.
That was the case when the Indians fell to rival Caesar Rodney 2-1 in the Henlopen Conference championship on Thursday, May 18, bested by the Riders for the title for the third straight year and by a one-goal differential for the second time this spring.
Headed into the game without junior forward Zena Lowman, the Indians would suffer another critical loss to their lineup in the first half, when senior forward and all-time leading goal scorer Maddie Hogsten went down on a full-stride sprint toward the goal while trying to generate a score on a through ball and crashing into a CR defender.
While it was uncertain whether Lowman or Hogsten would be able to suit-up next Thursday, May 25, for the team’s debut in the 2017 DIAA state tournament, head coach Steve Kilby this week was searching for the positive after his squad rebounded from a 2-0 deficit at the break to win the game’s second half.
“We definitely looked better in the second half. We had to make a couple of adjustments. Losing Zena in the last game and Maddie in the first half of this one, we lost our ability to hold the ball up and play off each other. Those are seasoned players, but some of the freshmen came in and they played hard,” said Kilby.
“You have to put a positive on it,” he continued. “We were missing our two starting forwards, and we were able to go out there and win the second half, so we want to go forward knowing that, the last 40 minutes, we came out on top against them and build off of that.”
The Riders struck first, in the 25th minute, when senior Maci Aglio sent a high-arching shot from outside the box just past the outstretched arms of IR junior keeper Fabrea McCray that landed in the net’s top corner.
Then, less than two minutes later, CR sophomore Megan Powers made it 2-0 Riders on a corner kick from junior Sarah Palmer.
“It’s a shot that we’ve seen before. It’s one of those shots where you just have to go and shake her hand and say, ‘Good shot,’” said McCray of the impressive first goal from Aglio. “The second shot, it was crowded in front of the goal, definitely savable, but mistakes happen and you just have to grow from them.”
Grow from the miscommunication in front of the net was what McCray aimed to do the next half, putting together one of the top performances of her young career by robbing the CR offensive attack on chances throughout the next 40 minutes.
With McCray holding down the defense, the Indians would move freshman defender Kayley Belzner into the midfield before finally generating some offensive pressure, with IR sophomore forward Isabella Keith eventually getting her team on the board with a goal in the 56th minute.
“I knew that, coming into the second half, that if we wanted to win, I could not let up another goal,” said McCray. “So I just gave it my all and sacrificed my body for my teammates. That’s what I had to do.”
The second-half turnaround would be too little too late, however, as the Riders foiled an IR corner kick during stoppage time to seal their third straight conference title.
After the game, Kilby was presented with yet another Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year award to add to his trophy case. But with the Indians set to enter the playoffs next week, there’s a different trophy he and his squad have their sights set on.
“When your peers in your conference vote for you like that, that is an honor and I appreciate it,” he said. “But I’d like to get a different trophy for this team by the end of the year, so we’ll see how that goes.”
McCray has similar hopes as the Indians try and get back to the DIAA state championship game for the third straight year, this time aiming to bring home the first girls’ soccer title in IR history.
“The plan going forward is to go hard or go home,” said McCray. “We’ve gotta give it all we’ve got, or we’re going to be watching from the stands.”