SMYRNA – Middletown entered the girls’ Division I state championship girls soccer match with Padua already without the Delaware player of the year, Alyssa Poarch, and shortly before halftime, the Cavaliers lost goalkeeper Taylor Wolf to an injury. But an early goal by Alexa Rodriguez held up, thanks mainly to the play of emergency keeper Mary Warren, and the top-seeded Cavaliers ended No. 2 Padua’s five-year reign as state champions with a 1-0 win June 3 at Smyrna High School.
Each team had to play a half staring into a setting sun at Charles V. Williams Stadium, and Rodriguez took advantage in the 13th minute. The Pandas had controlled possession until then, but they had few opportunities to beat Wolf. The momentum swung Middletown’s way, and when Rodriguez found herself with the ball and a bit of space about 25 yards from the net, she struck. Her blast just eluded the outstretched fingers of keeper Katie Szczerba – who had a bright sun in her face – and tucked under the crossbar for the game’s lone tally.
The teams traded chances until the 35th minute. Padua had a goal waved off because of goalkeeper interference, and Wolf was forced from the contest. Warren replaced her, and immediately the Pandas tipped a shot wide of the net, keeping the Cavaliers ahead.
Warren moved to the other end for the second half, and as the sun dropped lower in the sky, Padua increased its pressure. The senior was spectacular, however, frustrating the Pandas at every turn, assisted by a solid defense.
The Pandas came close on several occasions. Warren caught a corner kick in the 45th minute. Five minutes later, she beat Pandas striker Emilia Ryjewski to a loose ball in the box and managed to clear it. Another corner kick, this one in the 51st, was headed wide of the net, and an offside cost Padua a golden opportunity shortly thereafter.
Warren made perhaps her best save in the 61st minute. Padua’s Anne Brush sent a cross into the box, where Arryana Daniels caught up to it about eight yards out. She was stoned by Warren. Daniels was stopped again in the next minute. Ryjewski appeared to have tied the contest in the 69th, but she was called offside, and the Pandas smashed a shot off the crossbar in the 70th.
The loss ended more than Padua’s state-championship run. The Pandas had not lost to a Delaware foe since Wilmington Charter took a 2-1 decision on May 12, 2014. The last time an in-state team had shut them out was a year earlier, also at the hands of Charter, and that ended in a scoreless tie.
But this senior class of Pandas will leave with three state championships and a cumulative record of 65-4-3. Two of those losses – which happened early this season – came in Tennessee to two of the top eight teams in the country.
Seven players have graduated and will need to be replaced, but coach Joe Brown worked several freshman into his rotation this year. Szczerba returns in net for her senior year. The Pandas could find themselves back in the title hunt as soon as 2018.