Before the season, the teams in the Olympic Conference American Division licked their chops.
Eight-time South Jersey champion Lenape had lost key seniors and figured to be a step short of its usual presence.
Cherokee, Eastern, Shawnee and Washington Township all felt it could be their turn.
The Renegades (20-3-2) are the ones who made it theirs. Behind a stellar group of seniors, Shawnee won the South Jersey Group 4 championship with a 2-0 win over the Eastern.
Their title as champions in one of the state’s toughest brackets made them the 2015 Courier-Post Girls’ Soccer Team of the Year.
“I don’t know in that group of four if you can ever think you should win it,” coach Drew Wagner said of the rugged Olympic American. “The really frustrating thing for us is we’ve kinda paralleled Lenape’s success where we’ve been very good these several years and they happened to be great.
“The opportunity was there. It was special to get what I feel these seniors have deserved.”
Atop the list of fantastic upperclassmen is Alexis Palladino, a striker who did it all for the Renegades. Her ability to finish from anywhere near the net produced a team-high 21 goals.
“She was that one pin that put us over the top,” Wagner said. “She’s a difference maker.”
The senior who will play at Rutgers next year showed why the coach labeled her as such in the South Jersey Group 4 final.
Mere moments into the game, she fired a shot that gave Shawnee a 1-0 lead it would not surrender.
“Coming into preseason, I sat the girls down and told them it’s my last year and let them know if they didn’t believe in us and the capabilities of this team, they shouldn’t be here,” Palladino recalled. “I made it clear this team would do special things and everyone was on board with that.”
Fellow seniors Brittany and Amanda Hartwell-Miller, Silvana Gordon and Sarah Deberardinis helped keep the mission of a sectional crown possible.
The five girls have played together since their days in youth soccer. They celebrated together as the sun set on Medford, trophy in hand.
“Oh my god, it was the best feeling,” Brittany Hartwell-Miller said. “I was in shock for a while.
“I think it’s just that we were so close with each other, these girls were my best friends. We wanted to go all the way, but it was such a good way to end my career.”
For Wagner, the win provided affirmation of what he knew all season. His club stood out as the best around.
“Honestly, I just felt we played the best soccer,” he said. “We controlled possession in just about every game. To put it all together in that final, I thought we did a great job.”
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
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