It had only happened one other time in Selbyville Middle School girls’ soccer history.
The year was 2012, and the Indians had pulled off a perfect 10-0 season led by an eighth-grade class that would go on to help lead Indian River High School to their first-ever state title game for girls’ soccer.
That considered, it seems all too fitting that, this past season, with the 2012 group in their final season at IRHS, SMS would pull off their second undefeated season, finishing the year 9-0-1.
“The seniors are leaving, and our eighth-graders are stepping up [to the high school],” said head coach Neal Barch — who also coached the 2012 team — of the symbolic season.
“It’s real special. Every year, we’re close. Every year, a different team knocks us off — never the same team. Everyone wants to beat Selbyville Middle School, and they play their best game. I can’t tell you how many times there’s just been one loss.”
Setting out with the goal each season, the team had fallen just shy every year since 2012, with two losses in 2013, three in 2014 and then two again in 2015.
However, the 2016 group — full of IR soccer legacies with names including Beam, Diakos and Murray — had their own history to make and turned that goal back into a reality when they capped the season with a 3-0 win against Beacon Middle School on Friday, May 13.
“It’s definitely a big accomplishment. I think [Brooke] was really excited, too,” said sixth-grader Chloe Beam, whose sister Brooke Beam was a key contributor to the 2012 squad and IRHS’s state championship run this season.
“Since we were undefeated, too, I would want to be the next group to be in their shoes for high school,” added sixth-grader Lia Diakos, who not only has a sister playing with her on the SMS team, but two that have graduated and played at Indian River.
While she didn’t have a sister on a previous team, the accomplishment was also a special one for eighth-grader and defender Riley Murray, whose brother, Ridge Murray, play defense for the IR boys’ soccer team’s first-ever state championship, in 2014.
“We knew that it was the goal, definitely, for us eight-graders,” said Murray, “that we wanted to be undefeated and that we had to work hard for it.”
Outscoring opponents by a collective total of 36-5, it’s no question that — with the exception of a 2-2 tie against Millsboro Middle School on Tuesday, May 10 — the squad could classify their season as one of near-total dominance.
However, in the beginning, things didn’t quite look like they’d shake out that way.
For one thing, they didn’t even have a goalie.
While eventually they’d end up with two goalies, to make things work, Barch initially decided to get creative, heading out to SMS basketball practice this past winter, looking for an athlete that they might be able to mold between the pipes.
With a little convincing, they found one with sixth-grade hoops-standout-turned-soccer-keeper Le’Anya Garrison.
“She came out the first day in Jordans to soccer practice. She didn’t know how to kick a soccer ball. She was so nervous. And I just thought, ‘Oh, God, what did we try to do?’” said a laughing eighth-grader and team captain Kayley Belzner, who had also played with Garrison on the basketball team.
Garrison would, of course, go on settle her new teammates’ doubts, putting on a particularly impression performance in a 1-0 win against Dover Central on Friday, May 6, and earning the start in several matchups. Along with sixth-grader Hanna Bird, the two gave up only five goals on the season.
Bird had experience in the cage, playing for her travel team. But it was another player with the exact same name - down to the "h" - that netted three goals on the season: fellow sixth grader Hannah Bird. Playing with the same name since their days at River Soccer, Hannah and Hanna go by: "Hanna" and "H" to avoid confusion on the team.
Next season, Hanna Bird (without the "H") will look to take her offensive talents to the field full-time for the Indians as Garrison continues to learn the game and develop.
As for the rest of the team, they went through their share of growing pains as well.
“In the beginning of the year, we all thought we were going to lose every single game, and then as the season went on and we started winning games, our confidence started to boost,” Lia Diakos said.
“In the beginning, in the scrimmage, we weren’t really working together,” added Beam. “We weren’t really on the same page and we didn’t have a really good game that scrimmage. But over time, we became closer.”
Offensively, the Indians were led by seventh-grader Izzy Binko, who netted 13 goals and tacked on nine assists throughout the season. Sia Diakos added 11 goals and four assists, with Bird and eighth-grader and captain Rylie Cordrey finding the net three times this season (Cordrey also adding an assist), and Belzner, Murray and eighth-grader Mackenzie Wingate all scoring as well. Lia Diakos had a goal and three assists on the season.
While the team will retain their two leading scorers when next year’s undefeated quest gets under way, they will graduate 11 eighth-graders — including all four captains and some key defenders.
If history is any indicator, however, just like this year’s group stepped in to fill some big shoes left by the 2012 squad, the girls’ soccer legacy at Indian River High School and Selbyville Middle School will continue to live on, no matter how many last names appear familiar on the back of jerseys.
That’s something the players attribute to Barch.
“I honestly think that we surprised Mr. Barch. I knew that he wanted us to be undefeated because that’s his goal every season, but I knew last year he always talked about how much he was going to miss our back defenders, like Jordyn [Hogsten] and Mackenzie [Gorey] and all them that are at the high school now,” explained Belzner. “I think he was kind of nervous at the beginning of the season, having to move people up and try and fill their shoes, and I think we surprised him.”
“This season, the girls really came together.” said Sia Diakos. “It was up to us to be able to do it. Mr. Barch — he’s a great coach, and he really pushed us for our success this year.”