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Rebuilding Redbirds turning around girls’ soccer season

By Wayne Witkowski

Rebuilding sports teams typically start slowly, but many regroup from there for strong endings.

Allentown High School’s girls’ soccer team is another example of that, as the Redbirds, with eight new starters, have reeled off four straight victories and clinched the Colonial Valley Conference Valley Division championship coming into this week.

Allentown plays its Mercer County Tournament opener Oct. 20 at Lawrence High School (10-5), which handed Allentown its last loss prior to the streak. Lawrence has split its last four games coming into this week, and the winner goes to the next round Oct. 22 for a 2 p.m. start against the victor of The Pennington School vs. Trenton Central High School game.

State tournament qualification is based on records over the first 13 games. Allentown was 8-4 at the end of last week and assured of a return to the NJSIAA tournament. It had a chance to raise its seed from No. 10 to No. 8 with an expected victory Oct. 17 at home against Ewing High School.

“We started off 2-3 and played pretty tough teems,” said coach Kim Maurer, whose Redbirds played the toughest part of their regular-season games at the outset in losses to Notre Dame High School, 4-1, and Hopewell Valley Central High School, 2-1. “I had to find good combinations and we did.”

Oddly, Allentown had to win only three games to claim the title in its four-team division and did so by a combined 15-2 scoring margin, although the clinching finale Oct. 14 was a thriller. Sophomore Emma Pascarella put in the golden goal when she turned on a ball off a shot by junior Kassidy Mulryne that was deflected away from the goal and fired in her eighth goal of the season from 18 yards out. Alex Searing had tied the score early in the second half with her sixth goal of the season.

It was the only overtime goal Pascarella said she remembers scoring for Allentown, although she scored a game-winner late in regulation last season in a 2-1 victory over Steinert High School.

“The whole team has been struggling to pull out a victory, but we showed what we could do at the end,” Pascarella said. “We had a tough start, but we’ve built confidence and started working together. We have a lot of potential. We’re ready to play [in tournaments].”

Junior midfielder Carly Roche feels her team showed it has turned a corner in that victory.

“It was a little challenging to figure out in the beginning but in the past few games, we’ve come together,” said Roche, who is an outstanding pole vaulter for the girls’ track and field team. “We’ve always been pretty competitive, but we’re starting to work really well to make the pass and have great communication.”

Freshman Vanessa Rodriguez leads the scoring with nine goals, followed by sophomores Pascarella and Searing on a team that starts only three of its nine seniors.

“We’ve been dominating games and should be putting teams away; they should not be so close,” Maurer said, pointing to a 21-6 edge in shots against Lawrence with her goalie needing to save only one shot compared to the 16 saves needed on Allentown shots. “We’re not scoring goals, but the girls are getting it done. We’re getting shots off. It’s just that our shot selection is not the best. We’re outshooting teams by a lot more. We need someone to step up.”

Searing did that Oct. 12 in Allentown’s other close victory this season — a 2-1 triumph over Princeton High School — when she scored the winning goal with two minutes left. She fought off a defender and carried the ball for 6 yards before taking the shot from 6 yards out. Rodriguez put in the other goal off her left foot from 18 yards out midway through the first half.

Allentown has outscored its opponents, 34-14, but that margin shrinks to 19-11 outside of its three division games.

“It’s frustrating, and I know it’s frustrating our coach,” Pascarella said of missed scoring opportunities. “We’re outplaying teams but as long as we’re together, we’ll pull it off. I’m excited about it.”

Pascarella should be, as she already has matched her goal total of last season. She missed the end of last season with a right leg injury but ardently cheered her team as it reached the Mercer County Tournament championship game for only the second time in its history, losing, 3-0, to Notre Dame in the finals. The Redbirds’ other trip came four years ago when Maurer was an assistant coach, as the Redbirds lost on penalty kicks to Pennington.

Pascarella was switched from center midfield to center forward with Searing, and that move hastened Allentown’s turnaround.

On Allentown’s defensive back line, juniors Alissa DeFelice and Marin Hartshorn in the middle and Mulryne and sophomore Laura Coiante on the outside have limited shots on senior Molly Robinson and sophomore Abby Howell, who have split time in goal. The midfield also has maintained good ball possession with Searing, seniors Allyson Sloane and Sydney Regina and Roche. The latter three are the team captains.

“We’re playing pretty good defense and working hard, but we should be winning by more,” Maurer said. “We’re starting to play together after we spent the first half of the season figuring it out.”

“I feel I’m having an impact on the game, taking on the most threatening girls [of other teams] and shutting them down to help our defenders,” Roche said.

Field hockey

Senior Mary Bellotti continued her torrid scoring with 18 goals on the season, as Allentown (11-2) extended its winning streak to five games and clinched the Colonial Valley Conference Valley championship with a 3-0 victory over Nottingham High School Oct. 11.

Bellotti did not score in that game, however, as seniors Aimee Cavaliere, Paige Zytkoweicz and Colbie Kennedy provided the goals.

Bellotti scored twice and Kennedy Munster drilled home the other goal Oct. 13 in a 3-1 victory over Hightstown High School. Senior goalkeeper Katie White stopped four shots.

Bellotti capped off last week scoring all four goals, three off passes from Sierra Wojcik, in a 4-1 triumph over Steinert. White made five saves.

Allentown has a 14-3 edge in goals in the five-game streak.


Coming off a bye week, Allentown (4-2) faces a pivotal game at Steinert Oct. 22. Steinert (2-3) comes off a 34-20 loss to Hopewell Valley — a team Allentown beat handily before the bye.

Allentown is 3-0 in the West Jersey Football League Patriot Division and can clinch the championship with a victory. It also could wrap up a playoff berth in NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III and keep the Redbirds in contention for a home-field seed.

Allentown hosts Trenton Oct. 28 in its last game before the cutoff for the state playoffs.

Boys’ soccer

Allentown (4-7-1) was eliminated from qualifying for the NJSIAA tournament when it lost to West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, 2-1, Oct. 14, and to Princeton, 2-0, Oct. 13.

The Redbirds started the week with a 2-0 victory over New Egypt High School Oct. 11. Chris Paltryow and Noah Duggan scored in each half, and Joe Jurik and Chris Reeder each made three saves, splitting time in goal.

The Redbirds have been outscored, 19-13.

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