Young Allyson Sentnor was so dominant on the soccer fields of Hanson, Massachusetts, that her father, Rich, who was also her coach, told his right-footed daughter that she could no longer play with her dominant foot. “She would go out in the yard and shoot for hours with her left foot until it became as good as her right foot,” recalls Rich. “That’s her in a nutshell."
For the last decade, Allyson, who goes by Ally, has continued to practice—and to improve. As an eighth-grader, she helped Thayer Academy’s varsity to its first New England Preparatory School Conference Class B championship. Now a 15-year-old sophomore, she has scored 16 goals in 21 international appearances with the U.S. national team program, for which the forward has always played up at least one age group. She has committed to play for the 21-time NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels in the fall of 2022.
“She can execute technically and at a speed that I’ve never seen anyone else do,” says Liz Lima, the owner and director of Ally’s club, South Shore Select.
“A lot of people, when they see Ally, they think, Wow, that kid is just incredibly gifted. I’d love for people to even know half of what she does when no one’s watching.”
Lima, who remembers the day seven-year-old Ally walked into her club, grows emotional when describing the impact the young player has had on the culture of the program. “It’s amazing to me to have someone with that kind of talent who has [her] ability to be so selfless and so humble,” she says.
When coaches talk about Ally Sentnor, they extoll her skills on the soccer field, of course. But first they mention her humility. They talk about her uncommon drive. And they applaud her for her leadership. It is for all these reasons that she is our 2019 Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKid of the Year.
In Hanson, a town of around 10,000 that sits 30 miles south of Boston, there was little doubt that Ally would end up playing the beautiful game. “Soccer’s a very big deal around here,” says her mom, Lee. “It’s just kind of what you did. You signed your kid up for kindergarten, and you signed
them up for soccer.”
Younger sister Katelyn, now 14, and brother William, 11, followed suit. As much as Ally adored soccer—“I look back at all the pictures and see a huge smile on
my face,” she says—she also really liked gymnastics.
“My dream was to go to the Olympics in both soccer and gymnastics,” says Ally. “I thought I was going to be this insane double-sport athlete.”
By the time she was nine, she was doing well in gymnastics age-group competitions, traveling for soccer tournaments, and spending up to four hours a day after school participating in one or both sports. “I would keep missing gymnastics practice because I would just want to stay after for soccer,” recalls Ally. “We would have scrimmages after practice just for fun for whoever wanted to stay, and I was like, ‘Mom, can I please stay?’ She was like, ‘Yes, of course, but you’re going to have to tell your gymnastics coaches that you’re not going to do gymnastics anymore.’ I was like, ‘O.K!’ ”
One spring day in 2016, U-14 national team coach April Kater was at a regional combine in Pennsylvania. She had been hearing from a program scout in New England about an up-and-coming player from Massachusetts, and she was eager to see the talented 12-year-old play against the best in the Northeast. “We had to bump her up to the older group because it was too easy for her,” remembers Kater, now the director of club development at Real Colorado Soccer. “We were putting her two years up. That’s when I knew she was ready to bring into youth national team camp.”
Ally, again playing up two age groups, impressed the coaches at that U-14 camp in Colorado—“Right away, you could tell she had the ability, the mentality, the focus, the competitive edge,” says Kater—despite the fact that she was the youngest one there.
“My first camp I was really nervous,” says Ally. “I don’t think I spoke a lot at that camp. I was cooped up in my room. My roommate [current U-17 teammate Emma Egizii] was awesome, though. She tried to get me into the mix of things. I played O.K., but I didn’t really play as well as I could have.”
She did, however, have a blast. “She loved everything about it,” says Lee. “She loved meeting all these other kids who loved soccer as much as she did. She loved getting pushed. She loved getting honest feedback and people telling her how to get better.”
Adds Rich, “She was like, ‘Now I see what it takes.’ It was one of those moments that lit a fire under her even more.”
The national team kept inviting Ally back. “Her rate of progression from that point is phenomenal,” says U-17 coach Tracey Kevins, who began with the U-15 program. “She’s had that very distinct drive to want to get better in all areas.”
That drive is evident at Thayer, where Ally started off this semester with straight A’s. Her national team commitments mean that she misses one to two weeks of school at a time. “I still see her and see all of her teachers,” says Amy Hawkins, a middle-school math teacher at Thayer who was Ally’s eighth-grade advisor. “Her teachers are saying she’s a dream come true. Anytime she’s away, the work is done, and it’s done to perfection.”
Ally, who is 5' 3", embraces the challenges that come with playing against athletes who are bigger and older. She scored two goals in two games against England with the U-18 team this past February. “She’s come up against some 5' 11", 6-foot center backs, and she’s been undaunted in taking them on and holding up the ball under severe pressure,” says Kevins.
In holding her own against those athletes, she earns the respect of her peers. “Her leadership is something we’re really impressed with,” says Kevins, whose staff selected Ally as one of three rotating captains for the U-17 team. “It’s not easy to lead a group that are all older than you. That says something about you as a player.”
Lima saw it at South Shore Select, when 13-year-old Ally suggested a big sister–little sister program centered around important tournaments. “She came to me and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this for my teammates,’ ” recalls Lima. “She paired everyone with a younger player. They got to ask questions, talk about things they were excited about. They had follow-ups right before the event, and they brought little gifts for the girls and at the tournament they cheered for them.”
Ally has spoken twice, at coaches’ requests, to younger athletes about her soccer journey, first at her club and then to around 100 girls at an Olympic Development Program camp. She created a Power Point presentation for the occasions. Ally volunteers every weekend that she’s in town with either a Boys & Girls Club Challenger Sports program or the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, which both offer athletic opportunities to kids with intellectual disabilities.
Ally enjoys giving back, and she’s also benefited from USWNT players wanting to do the same: She’s had a conference call with Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan, and she’s exchanged emails with fellow Hanson native Samantha Mewis, who attended the same middle school that she did. (“I remember in history class once I got a textbook and inside it said sam mewis, and I was like, Whoa. I’m keeping this book forever,” says Ally.)
Ally’s long-term goal, of course, is to follow in their footsteps, and she seizes every opportunity she can to find out how to improve her recovery and her mental and physical strength. “Ally’s self-regulation and ability to take responsibility off the field really stands out in our program,” says Kevins. “Every challenge we put in front of her, no matter how hard it is, she continues to hurdle that challenge. I would not bet against her playing for our women’s team.”
First, however, Ally will try to make the squad that will attempt to qualify for the U-17 2020 Women’s World Cup, which will take place in India in November. “I just love being part of a team,” she says. “Just to be able to play the game I love so much with them means the world to me.”
Ally and her U-17 teammates frequently text on a group chat and FaceTime, and they were especially excited to watch the Women’s World Cup final this summer. “We just had such a fun time talking about the game because we know a little about what those women go through and what they have to do to get there,” she says.
For now, Ally will continue playing for Lima in the development academy at South Shore Select, where she’s a celebrity of sorts. “So many young girls do look up to her. I can’t wait to see what she does,” says Lima. “To have someone like her have the success that she’s having and hopefully will continue to have, it’s what you want your little girl to grow up to see.”