MIDDLETOWN >> One glance at Corryn Gamber on the soccer field, and you can imagine an arrowed neon sign lit up over her flashing the words, “center back.”
That’s the natural scouting conclusion to draw from a player standing a shade under six feet, with lankiness and speed that seems to cover an even larger expanse of the field. It’s how the coaches at East Stroudsburg, to which she recently signed a letter of intent, envision her at the next level.
But sight of the Penncrest senior slashing through defenses to the tune of 22 goals and 11 assists wasn’t just disconcerting for opponents, but doubly terrifying to consider how deep the arsenal of skills is. And it’s even more shocking to know that Gamber, the college defender, was an All-Central center midfielder last year, then an All-Central forward this season.
So you’ll excuse Gamber if the conversation of her preferred spot on the field is dispatched with a chuckle.
“I don’t have a natural position,” she said. “For my club team, I play central defense now. But when I got to high school, we already had central defenders. So they kind of put me in midfield, and I’ve played it before so it was fine. I adjusted to it well, and my teammates helped me a lot.”
This year, with Penncrest aspiring for a return to the PIAA Class 3A tournament, it faced a dilemma, having lost two of its top scorers from last year. The solution for coach Mike Deleo was to toss Gamber at the problem. And she delivered in fabulous fashion, helping the Lions add a share of the Central League title to replicating 2016’s journeys to the District 1 final and state tournament.
For that adaptability and achievement, Gamber is the 2017 Daily Times Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Gamber is joined on the first team by teammates Bryn McLaughlin and Sarah Hughes; the Episcopal Academy trio of Anna Salvucci, Raina Kuzemka and Olivia Dirks; Strath Haven’s Liz DeCarlo and Maggie Forbes; Sun Valley defender Devon Linn; Cardinal O’Hara midfielder Maura Hendrixson; Haverford forward Annalena O’Reilly and the Christian Academy’s Lindsay Haseltine.
Haseltine is the lone returnee from last year, making her second appearance. (Penncrest’s Carly Dunford, a first-teamer last year, is on the second team, mainly due to a season-shortening injury.) Salvucci and Gamber were second-teamers last year.
All four classes are represented in a rarity, thanks to the freshman Forbes and sophomore Kuzemka. The team also features as many juniors as seniors (five — McLaughlin, Hughes, Salvucci, Dirks and O’Reilly).
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
The conversation between Deleo and Gamber about her new role was largely implied. Penncrest would try to top its most successful season ever in 2016 without graduated All-Delco midfielder Gia Martyn, whose set-piece delivery cashed in many a stingy defensive effort. And they were without senior winger Tara Higgins, a Cornell track and field commit who passed up on another soccer season.
Deleo appraised his defense as rock-solid in front of McLaughlin. He had a glut of midfield cogs, several of which were options for the role Gamber played, paired with Martyn in the center of the pitch. And while the Lions possessed depth on the wings, they lacked that attacking centerpiece, the forward who demanded attention from defenders and distorted backlines to the betterment of teammates.
So, he figured, why not try Gamber? His player was similarly casual about the switch.
“I don’t really think we had any conversations,” Gamber said. “We just kind of went with the flow, and it worked.”
Four goals in the opener, a 6-0 win against Interboro, were a sure indication. Gamber scored in each of her first six outings and registered a goal or an assist in each of the first 10. If Penncrest scored, it was likely due to Gamber: She contributed a goal or an assist in 17 of 18 matches this season in which the Lions weren’t shutout, all wins. She had a hand in 33 goals; Penncrest conceded just six. All three losses were by 1-0 score lines.
Gamber set up Morgan King’s overtime winner against Haverford. She added two goals and a helper against Radnor and set up two tallies in a 3-0 win over Lower Merion. Gamber hit Kennett for a hat trick and set up two goals in the District 1 quarterfinal win over Sun Valley. She added the lone tally as the Lions progressed from the district semis against Pope John Paul II. Meanwhile, she extracted the best from players around her, like King (eight goals) and Carly Baillis (nine goals, six assists).
“It was pretty easy considering I have some great teammates,” Gamber said. “Honestly, coming into the season, I didn’t think I was going to play striker. And (Deleo) just kind of threw me up there. I think we all adjusted well and we got the balls through.”
That connection defined the final week of her high school soccer career. Gamber rolled an ankle in the District 1 finale against Villa Joseph Marie, a 1-0 loss were she menaced the Jems even while hobbling. When she got home, her ankle had ballooned, and she sported crutches for a medical consultation the next day.
“I went to the doctor’s and he said, ‘you can’t play on Tuesday. You can’t play,’” Gamber said. “And my ankle was blown up, it was all black and blue down the sides.”
With a little ice, a little Advil and plenty of rest (and hope for a cold night to keep the swelling down), Gamber waited out the weekend before taking on Fleetwood in the states opener. And like she did all year, she went with the flow, which included 104 minutes of occasionally labored but constantly threatening play, repeatedly troubling the Fleetwood defense and forcing several stellar saves from the Tigers goalie before Fleetwood finally struck with the double-overtime heartbreaker.
The final outing marked a bittersweet note for a team that had grown so close on successive states runs. But the loss also illustrated how much the journey meant to Gamber and her teammates.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Honestly, the girls that I played with, we played with each other for eight years. And on the bus ride home, we sat together in a big group and we cried because we were so sad it was over. … I think it’s amazing that we won a Central League title.”
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