Exactly one year and one day was how long it had been for the Indian River High School girls’ soccer team.
After a 3-1 loss to then-No. 1 Caravel in the 2015 DIAA championship, the No. 1 Indians were more than ready for redemption when they took the field to face the Buccaneers in a rematch of that game on Friday, June 3, 2016.
But after those 367 long-awaited days, it only took Caravel 29 seconds to get a leg up on history repeating, when sophomore Sierra Frey found the net right off the opening whistle.
The Indians would never recover from the early miscue and eventually fell 2-0, bested by the Bucs in the title game for the second straight year.
“We just couldn’t get in to get the goal we needed,” said head coach Steve Kilby, noting that the quick strike had changed the tempo. “We chased the game the whole game.”
On the surface, Frey’s early score appeared to be somewhat of a fluke.
After coming up on a ball rolled out by teammate Macie Pennington, the sophomore defender placed an off-put cleat into the sphere’s center from well outside the box (20-plus yards), sending a sailing bow over an unsuspecting wall of white jerseys and eventually landing it in the net’s corner pocket.
“It just kind of lolly-popped in,” Kilby said of the strange score.
But, despite the deflation, the Indians would still get their chances throughout the game’s other 79 minutes and change.
Just minutes after Frey’s unconventional tone-setter, senior midfielder Brooke Beam tried to answer by driving a defender down the far side, stopping just before the edge and sending a left-footed let-have across the cage, intended for senior forward Madi Mercer, only to see the chance broken up by Caravel keeper Sydney Keld before Mercer could get a proper foot on it.
Immediately following, Keld would break up another attempted set-up by Beam when Keld lunged out to pull down a corner kick using both gloves’ fingertips, giving the Bucs back the ball and allowing the keep-away to continue.
Junior forward Maddie Hogsten saw her chance thwarted as well, taking a through ball from Mercer and putting the foot race on from there, only to have it slowed by defender Jillian Lucey and eventually stopped by Keld, just before Hogsten could strike.
Then, still in the first half, junior midfielder Natalie Herrera found similar luck trying to find Mercer with a free foot on the goal’s left post. After the lobbed pass landed, Mercer knocked it back to a full-strided Beam out in front, whose off-balanced ricochet sailed just over the crossbar.
The second half held similar short straws, as the Indians battled through the game’s often brutal physical play and non-calls, while struggling to find the net even after some halftime adjustments.
“The physicality of the game kind of took us out of what we’re good at,” Kilby said of the match that saw three different yellow cards, all on Caravel players.
It wasn’t until the 76th minute that the Bucs sealed the deal, when a loose ball in front of the IR cage came down to a mad dash toward the ball’s next bounce. Caravel freshman Summer Stewart would get there just before IR sophomore keeper Fabrea McCray, in a photo-finish that resulted in the two players colliding but the ball still knocking into the net’s midsection for the insurance goal for Caravel.
McCray recorded four saves in what was her second state championship appearance in just two years of playing between the pipes.
As for the seniors — the ones who had made school history just by getting to the title game all those 367 days ago — Kilby said that, while it may not have been the way they wanted to go out, there was still much for them to be proud of.
“They’ve had a great run,” he said. “They obviously wish it went another way — and they were deserving of a better finish — but it just didn’t happen that way.”
What the recent grads can hang their recently wind-tossed hats on, however, is a lengthy résumé of awards and first-evers.
Not only was the group the first (and then second) girls’ soccer team to make it all the way to the championship, but collectively they’ve racked up seven All-State selections (Beam, four; Aline Check-Guzman, two; Davina Baine, one), two State Top XI selections (Beam), a Gatorade Player of the Year award (Beam), dozens of All-Conference selections and four Henlopen South division titles; produced the school’s first 100-goal scorer (Beam); and earned the school’s first Henlopen Conference championship title, back in 2014.
Ending the year with a 14-1 regular-season record, the class ends their career with a 41-9 collective regular-season record (their 10-5 freshman campaign serving as somewhat of an outlier), and 46-15 overall record (including playoff and conference title games).
During Wednesday night’s end-of-season banquet, the team was set to say goodbye to three players headed to the NCAA (Beam, Check-Guzman and Baine), as well as Mercer, forwards Emma-Lee Merrick and Kayla McCarra, midfielders Emma Engel and Maria “Mo’ Money” Matias, and two-time IR Girls’ Soccer Manager of the Year Hope Pearce.
Those cleats will, of course, be hard to fill in 2017. But with seven starters slated to return — including All-Conference selections Maddie Hogsten, Maggie Ford, Fabrea McCray, Sammi Whelen, Natalie Herrera and Grace Engel — in addition to a slew of young talent seeing some serviceable minutes this season, Kilby said he likes his chances of seeing some more title runs to come.
“The future is bright,” he said. “When we sit down and look at who we’ve got coming back, I think they’ll be successful. What kind of run they can put together in the tournament remains to be seen, because they’ll be very young, but we’ve got some talent, so we’ll see how it goes.”