CR girls’ soccer team with high hopes again

CAMDEN — By now, Haley Prillaman knows what the feeling is like.

With her big sister, Lexi, also playing soccer for Caesar Rodney High, Haley has watched or been part of the Riders’ three state finalist teams in the last four years.

And falling just one victory short of a state crown never does get any easier.

“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” said Prillaman, a senior co-captain. “It’s heartbreaking every year.”CR soccer-Haley Prillaman

But, heartbreaking or not, CR’s goal is to end up in the girls’ soccer Division I state finals for a third-straight season.

Despite losing seven seniors from last year’s squad, the Riders opened the season with a decisive 9-0 win over St. Mark’s on Tuesday. They host Sussex Central today at 5:30 p.m.

By now, CR’s veteran players say they expect the newcomers to step right in without missing a beat.

“We hit the ground running,” said Cowan Cummings, another senior co-captain. “We’re all skilled. They (the younger players) are really excited. They bring a lot of energy to the team.”

“We’re definitely a young team,” said Cummings’ twin sister, Aleya, another senior captain. “But they’ve stepped it up so much this year. You can’t tell the difference between our starters last year and this year.

“I feel feeling like our program has always been strong. We don’t only just focus on our starters, we focus on building up from the bottom, starting with JV and also our bench players. Everyone gets to play an equal amount at practice.”

Among the players that the Riders lost to graduation was forward Janiah Moore, who made the Top XI on last year’s All-State team.

Aleya Cummings, though, was a first-team All-State selection. CR’s main returning starters from last spring’s 16-2-1 squad are the Cummings sisters, Prillaman, sophomore Kim Glasser, junior Lynsy Gruwell and junior goalie Marianna Nunzo, who saw a good deal of playing time last season.

“It’s been a real exciting preseason for the girls and the coaching staff because we’ve tried a lot of different positions,” said veteran coach Darrell Gravatt. “We basically had seven girls who started for pretty much four years not with us this year.

“It’s a completely different team — although some of the girls have been in the program, waiting their turn. (But) we don’t lower the bar ever.”

This year’s CR senior class is an impressive 46-8-1 in their varsity careers. But the Riders are 0-5 against Padua in that stretch.

After losing to Padua in the state tournament for four straight years, the Riders will probably have to figure out a way to get past the Pandas if they want to capture the program’s first state crown.

Padua is going after its fifth straight state title this season. CR will face the Pandas on April 5 at the Hockessin Soccer complex.

Improving their level of play in order to beat Padua is something the Riders think about all season long, not just at the end of it.

“In order to beat a team like Padua, we’ve got to be a little bit better in all facets of the game,” said Gravatt.

“It’s definitely not a good feeling to lose to Padua,” said Prillaman. “But they’re a great team, they’re a very intellectual team. Playing them during the season is a really good thing too because then we know what we’re up against.”

“We’re definitely right there skill-wise,” said Cowan Cummings. “We just need to step it up a little bit.”

“It is definitely heartbreaking,” said Aleya Cummings. “We work the whole season just to lose. … it hurts a lot.

“We definitely have the skill to beat them. We have the drive. We just have to really keep working. I think about it all year — it doesn’t leave my mind. The whole time we have to pretend like we’re playing Padua so we’ll be prepared when we get there.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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