DOVER — Archmere’s girls soccer team has been exceptionally successful in recent years. The Auks have been in every postseason since at least 2009, reaching the Division II state championship game in 2014, the first year soccer split into two divisions. This year, the Auks climbed the mountain, winning it all with a 6-1 win over Saint Mark’s on June 2 at Delaware State University.
The last two years, the Auks’ season ended in the semifinals at the hands of Saint Mark’s, but the Spartans were on the other side of the bracket this year. That meant, however, that Archmere would have to beat the top seed, perennial powerhouse Caravel, just to get to the final. They did, on an Emma Gioffre penalty kick with about a minute and a half to go in the semis, securing a spot in the final.
“Playing Caravel really helped us,” said junior Julianna Witherell, who scored twice in the championship. “We were ready. We came to win.”
Christina Rosenbaum is one of six seniors who graduated on June 4. She said from the start of practice in March, she had a feeling the third time could be a charm. Her freshman season in 2020 was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s surreal. We’ve been trying to get this chip for three years now. This is pretty crazy. It’s a great way to end up senior year,” said Rosenbaum, whose brother, Andrew, scored the lone goal when the Auks’ boys team won the 2019 state championship. “We worked so hard. Every single person on this team has worked like crazy to try to get us to this. I have no words.”
Gioffre, who will continue her academic and soccer pursuits at the University of Cincinnati, said the team was singularly focused heading into the state tournament. The Auks had lost to both Caravel and Saint Mark’s during the regular season.
“Everyone wanted it much more than we did in the regular season. It was crazy the jump we had going into the playoffs,” she said.
Gioffre had a free kick during the title game that was stopped, but sophomore Lyla Bell knocked in the rebound for a goal. Bell was able to share the championship experience with her sister Maddie, one of the seniors.
“It was just a really good win with my sister, and she’s leaving. It was fun to leave on a good note and play with her one last year,” Bell said.
Goalkeeper Gabby Fernandez, who missed the regular-season game against Saint Mark’s, said the trip from Claymont to Dover was loud and rowdy, but the team was focused.
“We were hungry,” she said. “We wanted this win. We deserved it. We fought hard for it.”
Fernandez credited the coaching staff, led by Kyle Bardeer, who said the regular-season setbacks to Caravel and Saint Mark’s were less related to talent than they were to mentality. He said the Auks had to find out who they were.
Bardeer said the team had to stop worrying about the names on the jerseys of the other teams. Once that happened, the Auks realized they were capable of playing with anyone. One of Archmere’s wins this year came at Middletown; the Cavaliers lost just one other game this season on the way to the Division I state championship.
“It’s nice to prove to ourselves and everybody else that we belong here. This group in particular has been working at this for three years now, losses in two straight semifinals coming in. We kind of knew what it felt like to be on the other side, and it stunk. We did not want to feel that again, and they put it all together this year,” Bardeer said.
Bardeer, who teaches at Archmere, said he saw every day the work and the desire among his players to take that final step. That was the case all year, not just after practice started in March.
“It’s really satisfying because I wanted it so badly for them, particularly the senior class. It’s really gratifying for them to have their moment and to play so well doing it is really, really cool,” Bardeer said.
Gioffre said the state championship will always remain with her. “To have to leave Archmere, to leave on a championship is just awesome. That’s all I could have wanted.”