The Allentown High School girls’ soccer team made history by winning its first sectional championship in program history.
The Redbirds captured the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 title after defeating Toms River High School East, 2-1, on Nov. 9 in Allentown.
Allentown found itself in unfamiliar territory when it fell behind, 1-0, early in the first half on a goal by Toms River East’s Jillian Conklin. The Redbirds answered right back, however, with a rocket from junior forward Emma Pascarella off a pass from senior midfielder Carly Roche just a few minutes later.
The Redbirds took the 2-1 lead they would not surrender after freshman forward Olivia Ricci scored on a penalty kick with 23:40 remaining in the first half.
Both teams kept the ball out of the net in the second half, led by multiple spectacular saves from goalkeepers Abby Howell of Allentown and Jacqueline Keogh of Toms River East. Both goalies came up with seven saves.
The Redbirds, including coach Kim Maurer, was emotional after the victory — the first state sectional title in program history.
“It feels awesome — unreal, absolutely unreal,” Maurer said. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Ricci called the moment amazing.
“I’m in shock because I can’t believe we just won,” she said. “I’m still processing it.”
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Pascarella said. “I can’t even describe it. When that buzzer went off, I just feel like I’m on cloud nine right now.”
The Redbirds improved to 20-1 on the season with the victory, with their only loss coming in a 3-0 defeat to Steinert High School in the Mercer County Tournament championship game.
Maurer and her team believe that loss fueled them to play better in the state sectional tournament en route to capturing the title.
“I think that loss in the [Mercer County] tournament helped us to be where we’re at today,” Maurer said. “I don’t think that we could have done that without that loss. That just drove us to win this. We always aim for a sectional title at the beginning of the season because you always aim high. But with these girls, anything is possible, and they proved it today.”
“It helped us tremendously,” Ricci said. “It showed us that we are beatable, but it showed us that we can come back because we were able to win after that loss.”
“The loss was a motivation for us,” Pascarella said. “This is the first time in our school’s history that we won this sectional title. I can’t even tell you how much this means. But that loss was all the motivation we needed. It means the world to us. Doing it with these girls, I only wanted this. So this is an incredible day for us.”
Pascarella also noted how that game was the necessary experience the young team needed to become even better.
“In the Steinert game, when we were down, we dropped our heads,” Pascarella said. “I told the girls before the game today, if we get scored on first, we better pick our heads up, and we did. When I hit that ball, I knew it was going in. I felt it. Then we got the penalty kick, and it was just amazing.”
Following the sectional championship win, the Redbirds were ready for the next challenge: a chance for the overall Group 3 championship.
The first step was on Nov. 14 when they played Ocean City High School in the semifinals at Toms River High School North. A victory would have put Allentown into the Group 3 tournament final against either Northern Highlands Regional High School or Middletown High School South on Nov. 18 at Kean University in Union at 3 p.m.
“We’re going for a state title,” Maurer said prior to the start of the Group 3 tournament. “We’re happy with [Central Jersey,] Group 3, but why not strive for the best? Why not strive to win it all? This group of 21 girls, I believe they can do anything.”
“We’re ready. We better be ready after all of this,” Pascarella said.