For The Dialog
SMYRNA – Top-ranked Padua won its fifth straight soccer state championship on June 3, defeating second-seeded Caesar Rodney, 4-1, at Smyrna High School. The Pandas finished the season unbeaten and hope to improve their national ranking, which stood at third heading into the game.
Padua dominated play in the first half, missing several shots high, and Riders keeper Marianna Nuzzo also made some key saves. The Pandas finally broke through in the 25th minute on a free kick from 25 yards out. Senior Sarah Brush stepped up and found the net on a direct kick high over Nuzzo.
“That is my spot on the field,” she said. “My first thought was to cross it, but I saw where they were lined up and drilled it home.”
Padua kept up the pressure and had a couple of nice set pieces off corner kicks, but it was still 1-0 as the first half wound down. In the 36th minute, senior Mackenzie Scully dribbled down the left side of the field and sent a beautiful cross that classmate Megan Mallon headed in. Mallon was playing a different position that usual, central midfielder, but saw her chance to move up on the play.
“Kenzie was beating her defender on the left side and coach needed me to play center mid today, but I saw my chance to make a play,” Mallon said.
With the 2-0 lead, the Pandas continued the pressure into the second half. Mallon had a few good chances, with one just narrowly missing wide.
The Riders finally got their first corner kick in the 60th minute, and Pandas goalkeeper Abigail Boudart was able to punch it out. The Pandas may have thought they were out of danger, but CR’s Caitlin Harris gathered the ball and shot a high one from 35 yards out that found the back of the net to cut it to 2-1. It was only the second goal Padua allowed all year, and the first to a Delaware team.
The Riders’ goal fired them up, and they had chances to tie it up, but the Pandas’ defense turned them away. In the 72nd minute, Padua scored as a 12-yard shot by Emilia Ryjewski was deflected and went to Anne Brush, who found the far post for the 3-1 lead.
Scully discussed the pressure the Pandas were facing when Caesar Rodney pulled to within one.
“After that goal they were coming, and we had all the pressure on us, but the goal was a wake-up call to finish what we started,” she said.
Ashlee Brentlinger provided another insurance goal on a header off a feed from Sarah Brush to seal the deal on the perfect season. The Pandas won all 18 of their games and haven’t lost in the last 41.
Caesar Rodney finished 17-2, with both losses coming to Padua.
The Pandas and Riders have met in the playoffs for five straight years, four times in the finals. In 2013, they met in the semifinal round. In the 2012 title game, Padua needed double overtime to prevail, and the next season, the teams went to penalty kicks.