Denney breaks out as Allentown smashes way into state final
TOMS RIVER » At the midway point of the Allentown High girls soccer team’s already historic season, Olivia Denney wondered if she would play any further part in what was to come.
The freshman winger had been sidelined with a frustrating hamstring injury and mostly watched as her teammates racked up win after win after win.
Now that she’s feeling close to 100 percent, Denney is back on the pitch and making an impact.
Denney set up the first two goals before scoring one herself in a breakout performance that helped the Redbirds thrash Ocean City, 6-1, in the Group III semifinals on Tuesday night at Toms River North.
“I was never expecting that,” Denney said. “Our team really brought it today. We really had to play with our hearts and stay focused because the field, the atmosphere ... everything is different in such a huge game. We really had to play for it.”
Allentown (21-1) faces Middletown South (14-5-5) in Saturday’s state championship game (3 p.m., Kean University). The Eagles pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in state tournament history with a 1-0 triumph over undefeated Northern Highlands.
The Redbirds, making their firstever appearance in the state final, are trying to become the first Colonial Valley Conference school to capture a state crown since 2009 when Robbinsville (Group I) and Hopewell Valley (co-champ Group III) accomplished the feat.
“The whole team wants it so bad,” Denney said. “I’m just so happy. I’m astonished. It’s just amazing.”
Denney assisted on both of Emma Pascarella’s first-half goals. The two tallies ensured Pascarella, with 19 goals, the golden boot amongst CVC players.
The goals, in the 18th and 39th minutes, were nearly identical as Denney beat her marker on the lefthand side and pulled the ball back for the Rutgers-bound junior to finish.
“This was her breakout game,” coach Kim Maurer said. “One-hundred percent. She’s hurt a little bit, but you’d never tell by the performance she put in tonight. Player of the game, hands down.”
Denney and her classmate Olivia Ricci (one goal, one assist) were terrific in the Central Jersey final, but they were even better on Tuesday night.
“They listened when we practiced getting end line,” Maurer said. “They had to score 25 goals doing that or we weren’t leaving without doing it. We knew their backs couldn’t keep up with our forwards, so why not take advantage of that.”
Maurer has often lamented her side’s slow starts to the first 15 minutes of the second half, but that wasn’t a problem on Tuesday.
The Redbirds buried the Red Raiders (19-4-1) under an avalanche of three goals in the first nine minutes.
Sophomore Vanessa Rodriguez continued her postseason tear with her fourth goal of the tournament, another solo effort in which she carried the ball 20 yards before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed effort.
Denney then got the goal her performance deserved by tapping in Ricci’s cross at the far post.
Carly Roche smashed in Allentown’s fifth in the 49th minute, and although Abbey Kampmeyer responded for Ocean City 49 seconds later, the rout was already on.
Ricci capped off the scoring off an assist from Roche in the 66th minute.
“At halftime, we realized that we really had to push it,” Denney said. “We couldn’t let up at 2-0 because that’s the most dangerous score in soccer. We really brought it and the rest came natural.”
While the offense was piling up goals, the back four of Kassidy Mulryne, Marin Hartshorn, Alissa DeFelice and Lauren Coiante kept the Red Raiders’ 21-goal scorer Faith Slimmer quiet.
“I knew we would come out on top,” Maurer said, “but 6-1 ... we just finished our opportunities.”
Allentown is one win away from a state title, and more dangerous than ever.
“It was really exciting to win (a sectional title), but we knew that there was so much more,” Denney said. “Winning that was just the beginning of this whole new atmosphere. We realized we really had to bring it.”
Ocean City (19-4-1) Allentown (21-1) Goals —
Pascarella 2, Rodriguez, ODenney, Roche, ORicci (A). Kampmeyer (OC).
ODenney 2, ORicci, Pascarella, Roche (A). 20 (A). 8 (OC).
Howell 4 (A). Fenton 8 (OC).
Assists — Shots — Saves — 0 1 — 1 2 4—6
Allentown’s Olivia Denney (6) scores during the second half of a Group III semifinal game against Ocean City on Tuesday night at Toms River North.