Allentown High School had to strike a difficult balance in girls’ lacrosse this spring.
The Redbirds featured great seniors in midfielder Kaitlyn Bergen and goaltender Abby Howell, who wanted to make the most of their final high school season.
They also developed some strong younger players, such as junior midfielder Kylie Reed and sophomore midfielder Alyssa Castellano, who should reach their full potential and thrive in 2020.
But the younger players were pretty good in 2019, too, so Allentown did a solid job striking this balance over the course of the spring.
Allentown finished 8-8 and reached the semifinals of both the Mercer County Tournament and the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament.
The Redbirds, though, also lost in the semifinals of both brackets. They fell to second-seeded Princeton High School, 14-8, in the Mercer County semifinals on May 7 and to second-seeded Notre Dame High School, 9-4, in the state sectional final four on May 20.
But the losses did not diminish a successful season for the Redbirds. They earned byes through four rounds between the two playoff tournaments and won two postseason games, both by 10 goals or more. Allentown beat The Pennington School, 14-4, in the county quarterfinals on May 4. Then it topped Steinert High School, 16-4, in the state sectional quarters on May 16.
“We work very well together,” said Allentown coach Jen Garavente.
The two key seniors, Bergen and Howell, were essential to that chemistry. Bergen registered 36 goals and seven assists in 2019, finishing second on the team with 43 points. She also spearheaded a strong midfield unit that got better as the season went on.
The senior and fourth year starter is the ideal midfielder because she can play both ways.
“She’s really effective on the draw and a monster with ground balls. Her speed is above most people we see,” Garavente said. “She’s a true dynamic player on both ends of the field.”
Howell allowed just 3.8 goals per contest and made almost six saves per game. But her most important contribution was not even stopping shots. It was passing the ball forward and connecting Allentown’s defensive unit to its midfielders.
When the Redbirds were at their best this year, they were flowing from one third of the field to the next, staying in control of the ball. Howell made that happen.
“She’s able to track the ball in. It doesn’t deflect,” Garavente said. “Then she makes a clean clear.”
“Abby just has the dynamics of the game down very well,” the coach added.
Besides Bergen and Howell, Allentown’s other key players will be back for 2020. And after a successful season on varsity, they are already established contributors.
Junior Brianna Samuels, a multi year standout at this point, recorded 38 goals and 10 assists this spring, leading the Redbirds in both categories. Junior Morgan Vaccaro had 20 goals and nine assists. Reed and Castellano helped Bergen control the midfield area.
With so many quality players back, Allentown should be good again next spring.
“We haven’t reached our peak yet. Bits and pieces here and there,” Garavente said in late April, before the postseason. “I’m excited to see it come together and to see us reach our full potential.”
She was referring to this spring at the time. But she just as easily could have been referring to 2020.