DOVER — Archmere’s girls soccer team entered the DIAA Division II championship game on June 2 at Delaware State University believing it could play with defending champion Saint Mark’s despite the Spartans’ regular-season win, but few observers would have expected the offensive explosion the Auks engineered in the first half. Archmere put six in the net, then turned its attention to defense in the second half in a 6-1 victory over the Spartans.
It marked the first state championship in girls soccer for the school, which was making its third appearance in the final. The Auks lost in both 2004 and 2014, but now they’ll have a banner hanging in Moglia Fieldhouse.
“It’s surreal,” said senior Christina Rosenbaum. “We’ve been trying to get this chip for four years now. This is pretty crazy. It’s a great way to end up senior year. From the start of preseason, I had a feeling we were definitely in the running to win it this year.”
Archmere entered the tournament as the fourth seed with a record of 12-3. The losses came to three powerhouse programs. In addition to the aforementioned defeat at the hands of Saint Mark’s, the Auks also fell to Caravel, the top seed in Division II, and Appoquinimink, who was the second seed in Division I.
They earned a 2-1 victory at Caravel in the semifinals on a late penalty kick by striker Emma Gioffre. Auks coach Kyle Bardeer said those setbacks had more to do with mentality than talent.
“They knocked us around a little bit earlier this year. We kind of had to find out who we were,” he said.
That didn’t take long in the final.
The Auks, playing the first half with the sun at their backs inside Alumni Stadium, took the action to the Spartans from the jump. They got a shot on Saint Mark’s goalkeeper Marissa Cirillo in the eighth minute, then earned their first corner in the ninth. That ended up out of bounds, but Archmere kept coming. Rosenbaum intercepted a Spartans pass near midfield in the 10th and pushed the ball ahead to classmate Emma Gioffre. Gioffre took a step to her left and boomed a left-footed shot into the upper far corner for the 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for them to double that lead. Just a minute after the first goal, a win on a 50/50 ball near midfield was sent down the right side. Marina Mahon caught up to it and lofted a cross to the front of the net, where Julianna Witherell was waiting. She lowered her head and knocked the ball in.
Archmere did not let up. Saint Mark’s had a few throw-ins, but the Auks’ defense repelled any advances and sent the ball the other way. One such play, in the 14th, led to their third goal. Mahon carried the ball down the right side and spotted an open Haley Schleeweis. Schleeweis saw Witherell and threaded the needle to get the ball to her. Witherell turned and sent the ball high over a diving Cirillo.
The Auks could not capitalize on a free kick from 30 yards with Cirillo looking into the sun, nor on a long shot that went over the net. On the ensuing goal kick, the Spartans moved the ball swiftly upfield, and Haley Short got some space in the 18-yard box. She received a pass and threaded the needle, beating Auks keeper Gabby Fernandez to the far left side.
That goal gave Saint Mark’s some energy and momentum, and they were able to put together some more chances, forcing Fernandez to make one save. But they could not get that second goal, and it didn’t take long for the Auks to regain control.
The Auks were pushing the ball again when Gioffre took a pass just outside the 18-yard box. She was tripped, and the referee signaled a foul. Gioffre blasted a free kick that Cirillo could not hang on to. Lyla Bell moved in unmarked from the keeper’s left and buried the rebound for the 4-1 lead halfway through the first.
“It was kind of coming at me, and I knew where it was going,” Bell said. “Emma never misses the goal. It always gets close. I knew it was coming, and I just kind of hit it in.”
Cirillo kept the Spartans within three with some nice saves, but there wasn’t anything she could do when Gioffre moved in from midfield, created some space and went in one on one. She moved around one last defender, then booted a left-footed shot high into the top right corner in the 27th minute. Finally, in the 34th, Gioffre got her hat trick, extending the lead to five. She corralled a rebound and put it along the ground and in.
“We were locked in. We were ready. I’m not surprised we got six in the first half, and we kept it,” Witherell said.
Bardeer said his team was smart about moving the ball and how they attacked. When you have finishers and players willing to do the dirty work, “things fall into place very quickly.”
With a commanding lead, the Auks concentrated on defense in the second half. The Spartans put a few shots toward Fernandez, but the half was scoreless. After the final whistle, the reaction was priceless.
“I see how much they want it, and how much they work for it, and how they are invested in it, not just for the three months from March until June, but all year long,” he said.
“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.”
All photos by Mike Lang.