Being proud of what their girls’ soccer teams accomplished was a shared sentiment held by the coaches at Allentown High School and Freehold High School.
Allentown coach Kim Maurer boasted how proud she was of her players rebounding from its first defeat of the season to advance in the state tournament. For Freehold coach Elyse Ingui, a loss to end the season would not dampen how she felt about her team posting a winning record this campaign.
Those were the views explained when Allentown defeated Freehold, 3-0, in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 tournament on Nov. 2 in Allentown.
Maurer was anxious to see how her team would respond in its first game after the Redbirds, the top seed, were upset by third-seeded Steinert High School, 3-0, in the Mercer County Tournament championship game on Oct. 26 at The College of New Jersey in Ewing.
That loss was the only setback suffered this season by the Redbirds, who are the top seed in the state tournament and improved to 18-1 with the victory over eighth-seeded Freehold.
“I’m extremely proud,” Maurer said. “Seeing my girls lose the Mercer County final was tough. We just kept asking ourselves, ‘Can we overcome adversity?’ And we did.”
Ingui praised her group at Freehold, which finished with a 10-8-2 record this season. That effort comes one season after Freehold ended with a 4-13 mark.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Ingui said. “We did big things this year that no one expected us to do. We were coming off a 4-13 season, and we had a winning record and went a lot further than anyone said we could. So confidence is the biggest takeaway this year. We have a young team, and we’re graduating some amazing seniors, but I think that we learned a lot this year, and we’re going to be even better next year.”
Maurer was impressed with how her team, especially the younger players, shook off the defeat in the Mercer County Tournament finals.
“Our freshmen stepped up,” Maurer said. “They’ve never been in this situation before. To be honest, I don’t think that loss hit them as hard for the younger kids than the older kids because they know what it’s all about. But the freshmen really stepped up. At one point, I had all freshmen in the front line. So they played big for us, and that’s great.”
Allentown faced another challenge when it hosted a talented Colts Neck High School team in the state sectional semifinals on Nov. 6. The Cougars are seeded fifth.
Allentown’s offense against Freehold was sparked by sophomore midfielder Vanessa Rodriguez, who scored two goals. The Redbirds’ Olivia Ricci scored the other goal for Allentown, while forward Emma Pascerella notched two assists in the game. Goalie Abby Howell had three saves in the shutout.
“It was a lot of fun,” Rodriguez said moments after the victory. “It was nice to come back from our loss to Steinert. We just had to come out with a winning mentality. We did that, and we won.”
Rodriguez admitted that the team took a while to get its confidence back after the loss in the county tournament finals.
“We just knew it was going to be hard,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone was expecting us to win, and at first, we didn’t believe in ourselves. But we came together and said, ‘We have to do this. We have to win because it’s states. The job isn’t done.’ So we got it together and took care of business.”
Rodriguez is confident in her team’s ability to keep tallying victories.
“I think we’re going to win,” Rodriguez said. “If we play the way we’ve been playing and play as a team, we’ll be fine.”
Ingui was pleased with how Freehold learned to win with just hustle and grit.
“The biggest thing we learned is that outworking teams is going to win games,” Ingui said. “We really learned that we can step up our game and really outwork teams to win.”
Ingui expects her team to come back even stronger next year.
“I think we should do better than we did this year,” Ingui said. “I think we should win more games. I think we should compete a little more than we did this year. Our schedule is changing a little bit, so we don’t have to see teams twice. We can see a lot more teams.”
Senior center midfielder Kate Lemunyon of Freehold reflected on the season, which was launched with a 1-0 upset victory over Colts Neck — a team that is annually one of the premier programs in the region.
“We were the underdogs, I think,” Lemunyon said about the game against Colts Neck. “A lot of people didn’t expect to do as well as we did. We were able to shut out Colts Neck. We worked very hard in the preseason, and it showed in the difference between this year’s and last year’s record.”
Lemunyon, who will play soccer at Rowan University next year, offered a prediction for her teammates heading into next season.
“I think that they’re going to be good,” Lemunyon said. “A lot of teams are losing a lot of players this year. We’re a young team, so I think the team will be really good next year.”