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Allentown girls’ soccer team looking strong going into state sectional tournament

The Allentown High School girls’ soccer team is playing well going into the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament.

And now it has extra motivation, too.

On Oct. 24 at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, Allentown lost the Mercer County Tournament championship game, 2-0, to The Pennington School. The loss ended Allentown’s six-game winning streak.

But the Redbirds are still 6-1 over their last seven games, and they are a high-seeded, well-rounded team heading into the state sectional tournament.

At 15-5 overall, Allentown is the No. 3 seed in the Central Jersey, Group 3 field. It is scheduled to play as the host to West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, the No. 14 seed, on Oct. 28 in the first round.

Allentown will need to win four times to earn its second state sectional title in three years. In 2017, the Redbirds won the Central Jersey, Group 3 title with a 2-1 victory over Toms River High School East. Then it went on to win the NJSIAA Group 3 championship, too, with a 2-1 victory over Middletown High School South.

But last year, Allentown fell to Burlington Township High School, 1-0, in the state sectional quarterfinals. This year’s Redbirds have a great chance to get further than that and perhaps even win another state sectional championship.

Allentown lost to the tournament’s top seed, Hopewell Valley Central High School, 2-1, back on Sept. 11. But against the other teams in the field, the Redbirds are 4-1.

They are also just really good.

Vanessa Rodriguez, Olivia Denney and Olivia Ricci power a strong possession game and offensive attack.

Rodriguez has three goals and 14 assists this fall. Denney has 16 goals and seven assists. Ricci has 15 goals and two assists.

Christina Golden and Kaylee Munster anchor a solid back line. Goalkeeper Grace Welsh has made 66 saves this fall.

Allentown is strong on every part of the field.

“We’re just jelling,” said Allentown coach Kim Maurer. “Our defense is jelling, our keeper is playing well and we’re scoring goals.”

“It’s everything,” she added. “I knew it would come together eventually.”

It has come together of late, but Allentown has actually been pretty consistent all year. This latest six-game winning streak was Allentown’s second six-game winning streak of the fall. It has also outscored opponents 59-20 in 2019.

The Redbirds have even won six games by one goal, and it will certainly have to win a lot of close games to make a postseason run.

Welsh’s play has helped Allentown win a lot of those close games. The first-year starter struggled a little early in the year but, like her team, she has gotten better as the season has gone on.

“She has stepped up and done well,” Maurer said. “She has now exceeded my expectations.”

Through working with Allentown’s goalie coach, Mandy Hornyak, in practice, Welsh hasĀ  improved what used to be her biggest weakness: Picking balls out of the air. And that’s huge. Those are often the 50-50 plays that lead to goals.

“I just let Mandy do her thing (with Grace),” Maurer said. “Now she’s catching it solid and has a proper technique.”

Between Welsh and Allentown’s ability to control possession, the Redbirds should be formidable this postseason. The state sectional title game is scheduled for Nov. 7.

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