Hayley Peterson was on the Allentown High School softball team the last time it won a trophy.
That championship came in 2013 when Allentown won the Mercer County Tournament.
Peterson was the Redbirds’ standout pitcher and captain who would go on to play four years at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.
But now the 22-year old is back at Allentown High School in New Jersey, teaching social studies and leading the school’s softball program.
Her goal as a coach is to “bring a championship back to Allentown,” she said.
And in her first season, she is off to a great start. With a lineup of seniors and freshmen, the Redbirds are 11-5 and in a strong position to earn a high seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament.
It’s possible that Allentown will accomplish Peterson’s goal in her first season. But it’s more likely that the Redbirds will achieve the goal set by their four senior starters: win a state sectional tournament game.
The four seniors, centerfielder Grace Dawson, shortstop Alyssa Notarianni, second baseman Sam Einstein and first baseman Carleigh Delaney, have not yet won a state game in their four years at the school.
They are confident that this can be the year, and they have every reason to be.
The group has given Peterson a solid core to build around. Notarianni and Dawson have anchored a prolific lineup that is scoring 9.1 runs per game.
Notarianni is hitting .585 with eight home runs, 17 runs batted in and 23 runs scored. Dawson is batting .604 with 23 runs.
But the seniors are not confident because of themselves. They are confident because of their freshmen teammates who are balancing the lineup.
Catcher Andie Murray has a .463 batting average with 25 runs. Outfielder Kaylee Mushinski and third baseman Emily Lohkamp are hitting .571 and .300, respectively. Even Allentown’s primary pitcher, Carley Noble, is a freshman, and she has a solid 3.05 earned run average in 65 innings.
“It’s easy for us all to pick each other up,” Einstein said. “We all bond really well on and off the field.”
“They are really working hard and earning what they are doing,” Notarianni said of the freshmen.
This is an ideal place for a program to be in with its varsity squad: win now behind a bunch of seniors. Build for the future by playing a lot of freshmen.
Both initiatives were part of Peterson’s plan when she took over the program. She just never anticipated the underclassmen playing this well this quickly.
“I couldn’t be happier. We’re doing a great job,” the coach said. “I definitely thought it would be more of a growing year.”
“But the seniors are good leaders and the freshmen have held their own,” she added.
After most of Allentown’s victories this spring, Peterson has gotten the same compliment from various umpires.
“They tell me they don’t look like freshmen out there,” Peterson said.
A state victory would be a nice way to send off a senior class that stuck with the program through a 7-14 campaign in 2018. But even the seniors are looking ahead for their exciting young teammates.
They believe their proteges will eventually accomplish Peterson’s goal of bringing a trophy back to Allentown.
“They are going to be really strong when they get older,” Delaney said.
“They’ll be good the next few years,” added Dawson.