Redbirds win first game in state tourney; face No. 1 seed on Nov. 2

The Allentown High School field hockey team celebrates a 3-2 victory over Northern Burlington in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group III Tournament on Oct. 27 in Columbus. Allentown is 10-5 on the season. PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC ELEFANTE
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The Allentown High School field hockey team celebrates a 3-2 victory over Northern Burlington in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group III Tournament on Oct. 27 in Columbus. Allentown is 10-5 on the season. PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC ELEFANTE

Beginning in 2011, the Allentown High School field hockey team has made 10 straight appearances in the semifinals of postseason regional or state sectional tournaments.

On Nov. 2, the Redbirds will try to reach a semifinal for the 11th straight year. Allentown will play Ocean City High School in the quarterfinals of the South Jersey Group III state sectional tournament. The winner will advance to the sectional semifinals.

“Traditionally, we have been a successful field hockey program,” Coach Dana Schleider said. “We have won a state sectional title and a Mercer County Tournament championship over the last few years. We are hoping to make it back to the (sectional) semifinals.”

Allentown won the Central Jersey Group III state sectional title in 2013 and won the Mercer County Tournament in 2015.

Schleider knows about the program’s success having played for Allentown. The 2002 graduate remembers 1997 when the Redbirds won their only overall state championship.

Schleider and long-time Redbirds coach Mary Ellen McCarthy coached the team together in 2019 and Schleider took the reins in 2020.

After coaching through the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Schleider was excited to have a more normal season in 2021 and to be able to totally focus on field hockey with her coaches and players.

“It means so much to them to get a full season in,” the coach said of her players. “Every game this season is a great opportunity for both sides.”

Schleider said the Redbirds have been “clicking” on the field during the last month. The Redbirds (10-5) have won seven of their last eight games. A key win during that stretch was a 1-0 overtime victory over Freehold Township on Oct. 8.

That win “really gave the girls a lot of confidence,” Schleider said. “It was our first time playing a team outside (the Colonial Valley Conference) this season. It showed them they could grind out a victory over an excellent team.”

The Redbirds’ strong finish to the regular season helped them to earn the No. 9 seed in the South Jersey Group III state sectional tournament and set up a first round contest against No. 8 seed Northern Burlington County Regional High School on Oct. 27 in Columbus, Mansfield Township.

Allentown got off to a slow start and saw the Greyhounds take a 1-0 lead in the first quarter. The score remained 1-0 at halftime.

During the break, Schleider and her assistant coaches changed several formations to help fix some “missing pieces,” the coach said.

The Redbirds came out determined to get back into the game in the third quarter, but could not connect for the tying goal.

That changed in the fourth quarter when the team’s play began to click on offense. The Redbirds scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead.

“It was a great feeling to see the girls start to click and to do that after we made changes at the half,” Schleider said. “They never gave up. They didn’t want their season to end.”

During the comeback, two goals were scored by freshman Hailee Ladu, who has scored five goals in 2021. Senior Jolee Roth scored once to help seal the win. Roth leads the Redbirds with 10 goals.

Seniors Kelly Noon and Emily Nolan are having strong seasons for the Redbirds. Noon has scored eight goals and contributed two assists, while Nolan has scored five goals.

Senior Emily Ciccarone leads the team with five assists and has scored three goals.

Northern Burlington scored in the final few minutes of the contest to make the final score 3-2. Goalkeeper Kylie Elefante made five saves for Allentown.

The victory on the road sent the Redbirds to the state sectional tournament quarterfinals.

Schleider knows No. 1 seed Ocean City will present a challenge, but win or lose, the coach said she is proud of the way her players have competed this season and is excited to see how they come out and play against Ocean City.

“I am really proud of the girls and how they have handled everything on and off the field, and with COVID still in the rearview,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to go through this situation with any other group of coaches and players.”