In 2017, Allentown High School was a state champion in girls’ soccer.
Allentown was crowned the Group 3 state champion last autumn, when the Redbirds also won the Central Jersey, Group 3 state sectional tournament title.
Allentown beat Toms River High School East, 2-1, in the state sectional championship game and Middletown High School South, 2-1, in the Group 3 title game.
One year later, the Redbirds looked ready to win those trophies again.
They were 13-0 going into the postseason, outscoring opponents, 53-10. Allentown was even playing its best soccer, beating its last two regular season opponents, Ewing High School on Oct. 11 and Hamilton High School West on Oct. 15, by a combined score of 16-1.
But in the postseason, Allentown suffered two unexpected defeats.
First, on Oct. 25 in the Mercer County Tournament championship game, the Redbirds fell to The Pennington School, 3-0.
Then, on Nov. 1 in the state sectional quarterfinals, the shocker came when the top-seeded Redbirds lost to eighth-seeded Burlington Township High School, 1-0.
That stunning loss ended Allentown’s season prematurely.
But the Redbirds still finished 17-2 and won the Colonial Valley Conference.
It was another great season. It just didn’t have the same happy ending as 2017.
“When you’re number one, everyone’s gunning for you. So it’s like, we have to keep it,” said Allentown coach Kim Maurer. “Everyone wants to beat the top team.”
Allentown’s talented group of seniors made the Redbirds a top team. Seniors Emma Pascarella (11 goals, 18 assists), Lauren Coiante (10 goals) and Alex Searing (eight goals, six assists) led Allentown in scoring, sparking an aggressive attack from every level of the field. Senior goalkeeper Abby Howell made 71 saves and recorded seven shutouts.
The group transformed Allentown from a good program into a state power over the last two years, going 39-3 and getting national recognition. It was an astounding rise for a program from a small school in a quiet town.
Back in October, Maurer explained what made the group so successful.
“The players make a goofy team. Them being relaxed is them being goofy. I can’t tell them, ‘No one talk to each other, straight face, get focused.’ We won the state last year and they were like goofing off. Maybe not goofing off but just having fun, joking around in warmups,” Maurer said. “It drives me nuts but then I realized they are just loose. I have to let them be themselves. It’s good because they are not thinking too much about the big game.”
The seniors had fun but they were also hard on themselves. Throughout the 2018 season, they kept saying that they had another level to reach. They were never satisfied with how they were playing.
“We could have performed so much better than what we showed today. We weren’t connecting passes. We weren’t keeping our heads up,” said Howell on Sept. 17, after a 1-0 victory over Notre Dame High School. “There were so many small things that we should be doing.”
“I agree with that assessment,” said Pascarella on the same day. “It’s time to put it together.”
Allentown did put it together by the end of the regular season. But Maurer, like her players, is a perfectionist. And she thought the Redbirds still had room to grow entering the postseason.
“Our defense is jelling. Our offense is jelling better than it was. We are capitalizing on opportunities but it could always be better,” Maurer said in October. “We have to put teams away early. It takes us awhile to get going.”
Maurer knew she was nitpicking. She even said as much. But in their playoff losses, the Redbirds failed to score early, or at all.
Still, there are a lot of really good teams in the playoffs, and anything can happen. Plus, a couple close losses do not ruin a great season, or a sterling two year run.
“We overcame so many obstacles,” Maurer said. “Which says a lot about our team.”