By the time Abbey Fenton graduated from Ocean City High School a few weeks ago hers was a household name. As the Red Raiders’ girls lacrosse goalie the past three years she led Ocean City to sectional championship game appearances in 2018 and 2019, as the keeper for the girls soccer team last fall she helped orchestrate a 24-1-1 season that ended with the program’s first state championship, and in basketball the Red Raiders won another South Jersey title this year.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Fenton enjoyed the fruits of her labor and local stardom, garnering post-game interviews on a regular basis and having her photos plastered all over the internet from various high school sports media outlets throughout South Jersey, and the state. But it wasn’t always that way. A few years ago she was a junior varsity soccer and basketball player — and Fenton says she was OK with that. She used her time on the lower levels to figure out what it was going to take in order to make an impact on the varsity squads, and in a time of instant gratification, Glory Days Magazine’s Girls Sports Senior of the Year took the long road to the top, and it paid off handsomely.

During her four years of high school (and even though she wasn’t on varsity all the time in the three sports she played) Red Raiders teams she was a part of went an eye-popping 220-52-5, won five Cape-Atlantic League titles, five South Jersey Group 3 championships and an overall Group 3 state championship.

“Freshman year I was just coming in with an optimistic view. You’re coming in and starting over again at the bottom of the totem pole, so I kind of just wanted to take my freshman year to feel out each team I was playing on. In soccer, I was mostly on freshman and JV, in basketball I was mostly JV, and in lacrosse I started varsity. So it was kind of a view of each level with all the different sports I played and that gave me an idea of what I had to do to get to the varsity level in soccer and basketball. Freshman year was definitely a good insight to see what it was going to take at the varsity level, and that’s what I needed to have the later impact on all the teams I played for,” said Fenton, whose older sister, Nicholl, was a field hockey star at Ocean City and now plays at St. Joseph’s University. “Lacrosse is probably my favorite sport and I had the most impact from the beginning in that sport. We went pretty far in the playoffs all three years and my sophomore and junior years we made it to the South Jersey final, which was the first time we ever did that in girls lacrosse. And soccer, with the state championship — I think those two sports were where I made the most impact.”

In her final season as Ocean City’s starting goalie in soccer, Fenton proved herself to be one of the best keepers in the entire state. She and the Red Raiders’ defense allowed just nine goals all year, the team went 24-1-1 and posted a perfect 6-0 record in the state playoffs that included a dominating 3-0 win over a very highly touted Ramapo team in the state championship game. Fenton nearly always came through in big games for Ocean City, as in basketball she hit some huge 3-pointers that helped the Raiders beat rival Mainland in the South Jersey final this year, the third time in four years they had taken down the Mustangs in the sectional championship.

“It’s definitely really cool to get to play in those types of games. Not many people get to make it that far, the crowd is always big and it’s a great environment. It feels really good to be able play in so many of those games and win some of them, because not many people ever get to do that. I do look back and I’m thankful for that. It’s so cool,” she said. “When you get to that late in the season it’s about having a lot of confidence. It starts in the beginning of the season as you prepare for those types of games. Those are the games you want to be at, and when you get there you tell yourself it has to be your best game of the season if you want to keep playing. Everyone wants to win a South Jersey championship and I knew I had to come up big, so I just focused more and had a lot of confidence going into those big games. I think when you have a lot of confidence, in any sport, you’re bound to perform better.”

Fenton said coming through in the clutch is all about the ability to focus in the moment and push the pressure aside.

“It takes a lot of focus. I see that in both soccer and lacrosse — you might not see a shot for a good amount of time, and then you see one, so you have to focus on each play. It’s all about the mindset that you’re going to make the first save, and if I was able to save the first shot I saw I would have a lot of confidence throughout the game,” Fenton said. “In those championship games the energy is high and you want to perform your best for your team, so it’s all about taking it one play at a time and making sure you’re ready, because it can come down to just one shot. That’s how I looked at it.”

Fenton said that what made all that winning so special is the way in which it was done. She had to earn everything she got, as coaches such as Kelly Halliday, Paul Baruffi and Alyssa Morrison are not the type to just hand out starting spots if a kid hasn’t earned that right.

“I would say, overall, that I’m pretty happy with the way my high school career turned out. This year was special in its own ways with soccer and basketball. As I look through my years, I think I progressed the way you want to as you go through your high school career,” Fenton said. “I look at soccer and I’m thankful for the opportunities I got on the freshman and JV levels because I think it pushed me to become better, and we ended up winning a state championship. A lot of people look at playing on the freshman or JV levels as a bad thing, but I think it was a really good thing for me. It helped me progress in many ways. I think I had a successful career and that’s all I can ask for. I made so many friends and memories, so I’m very thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had at Ocean City High School.”

The crowning achievement of Fenton’s illustrious high school career certainly was the state championship won by the soccer team in what turned out to be a dream season that may never be equaled in school history.

“When I think back to the state championship game, it’s so hard to find the words because that was such an amazing experience just to be in that game, let alone win it. I find myself staring at the pictures and I still can’t believe we won the state championship,” she said. “We just had that mindset going into that game that we had made it to the state final, so we might as well play our best game and try to win it. Everyone thought they were going to be better than us — and they were a great team — but we just thought, why not us? We worked so hard the entire season and we deserved it just as much as anybody else. We knew they were going to be good, we just had to play our game, and I think we played it really well. That was such a cool, amazing experience and I think that was one of the best moments of my high school career. Everyone wants to win a state championship, that’s the dream. And to get it my senior year with a great group of girls, that was just an awesome experience. It honestly still doesn’t feel real now. I find myself thinking about it all the time. It’s crazy that we won a state championship and I’ll be able to look back on that and be like, ‘wow, that really happened.’”

Fenton will be off to Cabrini University in Radnor, Pa., this fall to play lacrosse and study to hopefully become a kindergarten teacher one day. Chances are her new friends at college will soon tire of all her stories about Ocean City sports, but she’ll keep telling them because that school, and that town, have made such a profound impact on her life.

“I’m definitely going to remember the state championship in soccer the most. That whole season we did so many team bonding activities, and I think that’s one of the reasons we were so successful, because we were so close,” Fenton said. “Coach Halliday made sure we were always together doing things and that made us a stronger team. And everything from that state championship day — we had to wake up at six o’clock in the morning, one of our teammates almost missed the bus. Those are the things I’ll remember most, the bus ride there. The game was kind of a blur, it’s the before and after that I’ll remember most. I’ll remember that forever, and that’s one of my favorite memories from all the years I’ve played sports. The ride home was crazy. We started to get closer to home, the energy was building, we got a police escort over the 9th Street bridge. For people who never get to experience that, it’s crazy. There were people lined up on the bridge. It was an amazing feeling. The community was so great the entire time and I think it brought a lot of people together. I wish I could experience it again right now. It was awesome.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays