On paper, the Indian River and Caesar Rodney high school girls’ soccer teams don’t look much different.
The Henlopen South-champion Indians were set to enter the Division II playoffs this week as the No. 1 seed. The Henlopen North-champion Riders were set to enter the Division I playoffs this week as the No. 2 seed.
The Indians finished the regular season with a 14-1 record.
So did the Riders.
And, just like the Indians’ offense revolves around All-State senior forward Brooke Beam, the Riders’ offense revolves around All-State senior forward Aleya Cummings.
Those similarities showed early on when the two teams clashed in the Henlopen Conference championship game held at Milford High School on Friday, May 20.
But despite an even score at the half, Caesar Rodney would eventually find their edge on a goal from Cummings in the 57th minute that the Indians never answered, earning their second straight conference crown in a 3-2 victory.
“We missed some chances; they missed some chances,” said IR head coach Steve Kilby of what was a rematch of last year’s title game. “A little bit of luck, and maybe we win tonight.”
While Cummings would net all three goals for her squad, including what would be the game-winner, it was the Indians who struck first.
Just under 17 minutes in, junior forward Maddie Hogsten sent a through ball to Beam, who got forward on a CR defender before dishing it back to Hogsten in front of the net to finish the chance and put IR up 1-0.
“We said before the game that we didn’t want [Brooke] in the middle of the park all night. We wanted her matched up with their outside backs, because we knew that they couldn’t deal with her out there,” said Kilby. “That’s what led to the first goal.”
The celebration didn’t last long, however, when just 0:30 later, Cummings netted her first score of the night on a ball from freshman midfielder Jessie Prilliman.
Then, after being awarded a penalty kick a few ticks later, Cummings would net her second score of the night, on a shot just out of reach for sophomore goalkeeper Fabrea McCray.
“I tried to trick her to the left, trick her to the right. I just wasn’t quick enough,” said McCray after getting a hand on the shot. “It’s just one of those things where you’ve gotta put it in the past as a goalkeeper. PK’s happen. You just gotta move forward.”
Moving forward is exactly what the Indians did, netting the equalizer just before the break.
That time it was sophomore midfielder Sammi Whelen creating the chance, slipping past a defender on the outside and getting it to Beam in front of the net, who dodged two defenders herself before knocking it back to Whelen for the score.
With the title on the line, the game’s already heightened physicality amped up in the second half, as both teams traded missed scoring chances and the Indians looked for an answer to Cummings’ 57th-minute difference-maker, without avail.
“The last 12 minutes were chasing the game. We needed a goal,” Kilby said. “Unfortunately, the goal that we gave up — we had both center backs step to a ball, and that’s exactly what we’ve been preaching against.”
McCray would end the game with eight saves, with CR junior keeper Marianna Nuzzo helping keep IR at bay with six stops on the night.
The Riders have now won two conference championship games — both over Indian River — since the new format of a title match featuring the North and South division winners was instituted in 2014. That was also the last time the Indians won the crown, with a 2-1 victory over Sussex Tech.
But while Kilby and his squad may have missed a chance for revenge last Friday, they have another shot at redemption as they enter this year’s DIAA DII playoffs as the No. 1 seed. They were set to face Tower Hill School at Dover High School on Thursday, May 26, (after Coastal Point press time), in the DII quarterfinals.
Just a year removed from making school history as the first girls’ soccer team to make it to the state title game, they’ll be looking to leave their mark in the record books yet again — this time by finishing the job.
“This group has an incredible opportunity before them,” Kilby said. “They’ve gotta worry about Wednesday or Thursday first, and then we’ll go from there.”
“We have a bigger goal that we have to achieve,” added McCray, going on to note that this year she’s also playing for her friend and classmate Trevor Kramer, who recently passed away after a battle with cancer.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going for the state title. We’re going to go get it — we’re going to go get it for Trevor. We’re going to go big, and we’re going to succeed this time.”
Goals: CR — A. Cummings (3) IR — M. Hogsten (1), S. Whelen (1)
Assists: CR — J. Prilliman (2) IR — B. Beam (2)
Saves: CR — M. Nuzzo (6) IR — F. McCray (8)