The camaraderie shared by the girls’ soccer players at Allentown High School has been instrumental to their success this season.
A loose bunch of players helped Allentown advance to the NJSIAA Group 3 tournament’s championship game when the Redbirds defeated Ocean City High School, 6-1, in the semifinals that were played on Nov. 14 at Toms River High School North.
Before the game, Allentown was visibly excited during warm-ups, with most of the team smiling and laughing.
Allentown coach Kim Maurer praised her team’s positive attitude.
“It is them, and as my assistant said, ‘If they were like this all the time, I would be worried.’ But [during] the pregame, they are just social and fun; they just love each other,” Maurer said. “That is them, and that is them at practice. We are such a tight-knit group.”
Allentown was scheduled to play Middletown High School South in the Group 3 title game on Nov. 18 at Kean University in Union.
Middletown South had earned a ticket to the Group 3 finals on Nov. 14 with a 1-0 upset victory against Northern Highlands Regional High School, which came into the semifinals ranked No. 1 in the state.
The victory over Ocean City sent the Redbirds to a 21-1 record. The only setback for Allentown came in the Mercer County Tournament finals against Steinert High School last month.
Allentown and Ocean City felt each other out early in the Group 3 semifinals.
“The first 15 minutes was a little rough, kind of getting adjusted to the game itself. Once we scored that first goal, [we] were kind of like, ‘OK, we got this,’ ” Maurer said.
Allentown struck first when junior forward Emma Pascarella connected for a goal 17 minutes into the game. She scored off an assist by freshman Olivia Denney.
“[The game] kind of opened up, and we just finished opportunities,” Maurer said.
Pascarella also scored the next goal for the Redbirds, with Denney picking up the assist.
Pascarella said that setting the tone early was amazing and gave the team a great feeling, as Allentown ended the first half with a 2-0 edge.
Sophomore Vanessa Rodriguez scored a goal in the first minute of the second half off an assist from sophomore Madi Keefe to lift the Redbirds to a 3-0 lead.
Allentown kept the pace up and scored three minutes later when Denney connected off a pass from freshman Olivia Ricci to give the Redbirds a commanding 4-0 lead.
“After assisting and our team playing so great, I am just so happy for everyone. It is just such a great feeling,” said Denney, who finished the game with one goal and two assists.
Senior midfielder Carly Roche was the next Redbirds player to strike when she hit for a goal eight minutes into the second half.
Ocean City scored with 29 minutes left in the game to avoid the shutout.
Ricci capped the scoring with a goal later in the game.
“I feel so great; it is an awesome feeling,” Roche said. “I am so happy for everyone. We never made it to this game, we never made it to the finals and everything is just a new experience. And we are trying to take it in stride, and I think that is what we did here today.”
Roche said the team is excited to move one step closer to a state championship.
“I do not think we have ever played this well, and it is such a great feeling to go out there and have no regrets,” she said. “I am so happy for all of my teammates because they deserve it. We love each other so much, and I am so excited to be on this team with them for my senior year.”
Maurer said Middletown South has to be a pretty good team to be where it is, but she noted that her squad has a plenty of confidence.
“Why stop here? Let’s go all the way,” she said.