SMYRNA — It was an all too familiar feeling against an all too familiar opponent.
For the second year in a row, Padua Academy defeated Caesar Rodney High in the Division I girls’ soccer finals by a 3-1 scoreline, Tuesday night at Smyrna High. The Pandas, who were the top seed, have won the last four state titles.
Three of Padua’s four championships were against CR in the championship game. The Pandas have ended the Riders’ season each of the last four seasons.
“I feel like our girls are as skilled as their girls frankly,” said CR coach Darrell Gravatt. “A lot of times we don’t play two back-to-back halves that are real high quality. Padua is a very good team, but I don’t feel like our team is overmatched. We just don’t seem to win. It’s very frustrating.”
The Pandas built a 3-0 lead by halftime, scoring three goals in the first half.
Arryana Daniels netted the first goal when she was sprung free on a quick attack on the left side by a pass from MacKenzie Scully. Daniels was able to collect the ball and finish just inside the near post.
Goals from Molly Drach, who banged in a loose ball that rolled around the box after a corner kick, and Ashlee Brentlinger, who converted a penalty kick, soon followed and the Pandas were up 3-0 in the first 25 minutes.
“Once they scored one we just kind of lost ourselves for a 15-minute span where they got all three,” Gravatt said. “How can you come back from 3-0 against Padua? You can’t go back and redo it. That’s why Padua keeps winning, because they make less mistakes and capitalize on our mistakes.”
CR’s best chance at a goal in the first half came in the seventh minute when Aleya Cummings took a nifty touch into space at the top of the box but her effort went over the bar once she freed herself for a shot.
“If we make that, I think it’s a different game,” Gravatt said. “It’s hard for to get nervous when they’re always ahead.”
Cummings again poised a threat at Padua’s net in the second half when her hard shot was punched out for a corner with 35 minutes to go by Padua goalie Abbi Boudart.
The Riders got on the board when the Pandas (17-0-1) were called for a handball in the penalty box in the 57th minute. Janiah Moore was able to score off the resulting penalty kick.
CR had the majority of possession and the chances after Moore’s goal, but couldn’t find a way to put another by Boudart.
“I thought it was at least even in the second half when we played like our normal selves,” Gravatt said. “If we can put together two halves like that against Padua we might be able to win one.”
Padua has won seven of the last 10 state titles.
Caesar Rodney finished the season at 16-2-1. Both losses were to the Pandas.
“They’re a very good team and we didn’t bring our A-game in the first half that’s for sure,” Gravatt said. “That’s what happens when you play a team like Padua, you get punished for your mistakes.”