After getting the season started with a 9-0 win over Sussex Central on Thursday, March 23, the Indian River High School girls’ soccer drew the short straw in a close contest with Caesar Rodney on Tuesday, March 28, falling to the Riders 3-2.
The early-season stumble aside, the Indians may well see the Riders in the Henlopen Conference Championship again, for a third straight year, later this season, as they aim to bring a home a fourth straight Henlopen South division title.
“I think the girls understood how well they played. They know that CR was tested, and CR knows that they were tested,” said head coach Steve Kilby after the March 28 match. “We’ll press on for the rest of our season and, hopefully, we’ll see them again.”
Indians 9, Sussex Central 0
The Indians’ new-look offense got the ball rolling with quick strikes against the Golden Knights last Thursday, going up 1-0 just eight minutes in, on a well-placed P.K. off the foot of junior midfielder Sammi Whelen.
Senior forward Maddie Hogsten started her closing in on the 100-career-goals mark just over two minutes later, finishing a chance set up by junior midfielder and Sussex Tech transfer Zena Lowman to make it 2-0.
Another score from Hogsten and a goal from sophomore midfielder Isabella Keith on an assist from Whelen made it 4-0 before the break.
“We’ve been working on finishing at practice, so we’re going to continue that,” said Whelen of the new offense. “We lost a lot of good finishers from last year, but each game, we’re just going to continue to get better.”
Keith would add her second score on an assist from Whelen to start the second half, with goals from senior midfielder Maggie Ford and Hogsten making it 7-0 as the game wound down.
That’s when some of the team’s rising stars made their presence known, when freshman forward Avery Congleton assisted sophomore forward Skyler McClure to make it 8-0, and Congleton then tacked on her first career goal for the game’s final score, in the 79th minute.
“She did her 10 push-ups,” said Hogsten with a laugh, of the team tradition for a first goal with the Indians. “We’re really excited about Avery and Saylor [Congleton] and some of our freshmen.”
Other newcomers stepping up in the matchup included freshman defender Kayley Belzner, coming off a season in which she led the Selbyville Middle School girls’ soccer team to an undefeated season as an eighth-grader, and sophomore Lily Wiley making the jump from J.V. to add to the offense.
“Kayley Belzner, I thought, had a great game as a freshman left back — came in and did a really nice job,” said Kilby. “Lily Wiley, sophomore — very athletic — we identified her coming out of camp a little bit late, but her pace and physicality are a big plus. I think she had a nice varsity debut.”
Caesar Rodney 3, Indians 2
Heading into the March 28 game looking to get past the Riders for the first time in program history, the Indians were set back early, when a breakdown on the defense led to a fast-break score from sophomore forward Jessie Prillaman in the 33rd minute.
CR freshman forward Megan Rigsby made it 2-0 just after the break, but Ford got the offense in motion and the Indians on the board with a goal assisted by McClure in the 53rd minute.
After that, the Riders would go up 3-1 on a score from sophomore Megan Powers, assisted by Prillaman, with the Indians continuing to press on and Hogsten cutting the lead to 3-2 approaching stoppage time. Time would run out, however, before the Indians could manage to tie things up.
“Unfortunately, we missed some opportunities,” said Kilby. “Two mental breakdowns on our part led to goals, which are unfortunate, but against a good team you can’t have those types of mistakes.”
IR junior goalkeeper Fabrea McCray recorded three saves in the game, while Hogsten’s 81st career goal left her with 19 to go in order to become the school’s second soccer player ever to reach 100 career goals.
After falling to 1-1 on the season, Kilby and players including Whelen said the team was using the game as motivation for the rest of the season and a possible future rematch against the Riders.
“Coming out of this game, the exact statement was that our objective was to play them again at the end of the season,” said Kilby.
Up next, the Indians will get started on a six-game road stint, taking on Delmar on Thursday, March 30, at 5:30 p.m., then heading up to Cape Henlopen on Tuesday, April 4, for a 7 p.m. matchup.
They aren’t scheduled to return home until Thursday, April 27, for a game against Lake Forest at 6 p.m.