For The Dialog
SMYRNA – Two goals in a dominant first half were enough to propel Padua Academy to its third straight state soccer championship, as the Pandas defeated Caesar Rodney High School, 3-1, Monday night at Smyrna High School.
It was the second time in the last three seasons that these teams met for the championship. Padua won in 2012 in double overtime. They also met in the semifinal round last year, with Padua surviving, 4-2, on penalty kicks.
There would be no overtimes this season. Padua, ranked second in the Division I tournament, got on the board in the 12th minute on a penalty kick by senior Regan Lehman. It was a freshman, Arryana Daniels, who was taken down inside the box to set up Lehman’s tally. Daniels was rewarded in the 30th minute, streaking toward the left of the CR goalkeeper and taking a perfect pass from sophomore Kenzie Scully. Daniels redirected the pass into the net for the 2-0 advantage.
Padua could have had a few more goals if not for the outstanding play of Riders keeper Kristina Stephens. She made several saves, some on point-blank shots, to keep Caesar Rodney within striking distance.
The Riders regrouped at the half and increased their own offensive pressure after the intermission. Finally, in the 53rd minute, Delaware player of the year Lexi Prillaman was tackled inside the box, and she buried the penalty kick to make the score 2-1.
It took Padua just three minutes to get that one back, however, as freshman Emilia Ryjewski blasted a 15-yard bender into the top right corner of the net. The goal returned the momentum to the Pandas, and they kept the pressure on the rest of the way.
Stephens finished with 14 saves for Caesar Rodney on 18 Padua shots, while the Padua defense held the Riders to just four shots. It was the sixth state championship for Padua, which finished the season 16-1-1 and graduates just three seniors. Caesar Rodney, which upset undefeated and top-ranked Charter to reach the final, closed at 14-4.