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Saint Mark’s upends Caravel for DIAA Division II girls soccer title, program’s first since 2008: Photo gallery

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The Saint Mark's girls soccer team holds the championship trophy for the first time since 2008. Dialog photo/Jason Winchell

and Mike Lang, Dialog reporter

DOVER – A free kick from Caravel in the 68th minute bounced in and out of the hands of Saint Mark’s goalkeeper Marissa Cirillo, was knocked off the crossbar above her head, then kicked again, forcing Cirillo to make a second save on the chance. The Spartans survived that sequence, the last best opportunity for the Buccaneers to tie, and Saint Mark’s went on to a 2-1 win and the DIAA Division II girls soccer state championship June 3 at Delaware State University.

It was the sixth title in program history, but the first since 2008, when this year’s Spartans were just babies and toddlers. Coach Dan Swasey picked up his second championship, as he was in charge 14 years ago, and Saint Mark’s was able to avenge a 3-2 loss to Caravel in last year’s title game across town at Dover High School.

Spartans coach Dan Swasey said his team was motivated to return to the championship game.

“After the loss last year to this great Caravel team our goal was to win the championship this year,” he said. “We kind of reminded the girls after the Archmere win (in the semifinals) that we still had one more win to get.”

The teams battled through a scoreless first half, but the opening 40 minutes did not lack for scoring chances. The Spartans came out with their normal attacking mindset, and they forced Caravel goalkeeper Riley Pinato to make a stop in the first minute of the contest. Emma Manley took a long through ball in the seventh, but her shot was inches wide.

The Bucs swung the momentum in the middle of the first half, and they nearly capitalized on a free kick in the 25th. The shot, however, skimmed off the top of the crossbar. Later on, Caravel’s Alaina Alston made a fine spin move to get free near the Saint Mark’s base line, but her shot was wide.

Katie Lennon (14) and other Saint Mark’s Spartans mob Lily Philips after she scored the first goal against Caravel. Screen shot/Delaware Live Sports

It didn’t take long for the Spartans to make their move in the second half. Caravel opened with possession, but the Spartans countered after a long pass from the Bucs went astray and was intercepted. Several Spartans touched the ball, which was eventually sent as a long through ball between two Buccaneers defenders to Lily Phillips. Absorbing a bump, Phillips drilled a shot into the far left corner.

I moved back to Delaware (from Michigan) this year and it’s hard to believe we are the state champions right now,” Phillips said after the game.

Pinato kept it 1-0 with a diving save in the 45th, and Alston sent a few shots toward Cirillo at the other end as the teams moved the ball up and back in the early going of the second half. Finally, Alston was able to help draw the Buccaneers even.

In the 57th minute, the Bucs passed toward the end line to Cirillo’s left. She headed toward the ball, but so did Alston. She chipped the ball into the six-yard box, where Reese Mushinski was able to poke the ball into the side pocket to tie the game at 1-1.

But the state’s player of the year, Maddie Schepers, does what she does best, and that is come up with big goals when the Spartans need them the most. Five minutes after the equalizer, the Spartans stole a a Caravel throw-in. Schepers was set up all alone 24 yards out, and her left-footed shot sailed into the left side of the net. Katie Lennon got the assist.

I scored some big goals with my left foot this year because i have to focus on that leg more. My right leg is more is more natural,” Schepers said. “I have to credit Emma Manley on my goal because she was able to get my defender off me by the move she made, then hit me with a great pass.”

From there, the Spartans played keep away, sending the ball deep every chance they got. They withstood a few advances by Caravel, then embraced and fell into a pile near midfield when the final horn sounded. Swasey and his staff took it all in from the sideline.

“We have come a long way in the last few years and I couldn’t be more proud of the work these kids put in,” he said.

Final statistics were not available early Saturday. The Spartans finished with a record of 16-2. The championship capped a spectacular sports year for the Spartans women, who also won titles in volleyball, cross country, indoor track, and spring track and field.

Photos by Jason Winchell and Nick Halliday.