Hillsborough girls’ lacrosse playing great on both ends of the field

Hillsborough High School is off to a 5-0 record in girls’ lacrosse this spring.

But it’s not just the record and victories that jump out.

It’s the 82-27 goal differential. It’s the fact that Hillsborough has beaten four opponents by 10 goals or more. It’s the undeniable reality that these Raiders are a strong team across the field.

Coach Kristina Dunphey expected to have a strong offense behind senior dynamo Lisa Ross. And the coach has gotten what she expected.

But Dunphey wasn’t as certain that her Raiders would be this strong on the back end. Junior goaltender Kya Risher has 46 saves and has held four opponents to five goals or less.

In addition to stopping the ball, Risher is controlling it, passing it back upfield and starting offensive rushes. She is a lacrosse player, not just a goalie.

Risher started in net for the Raiders in 2018, and she is committed to the University of Hartford in Connecticut to play lacrosse. But she is significantly better than she was a year ago.

“She’s more vocal and her clears have improved,” Dunphey said. “She just looks confident with the ball when she saves it. Kya would rush clears last year.”

The junior agrees with her coach. Starting last year, and getting those reps, gave her the confidence to thrive this year.

Risher recognized that she was a different player during a March 19 home scrimmage against Rumson-Fair Haven High School. She made a ton of saves and helped the Raiders tie one of the best programs in New Jersey.

“It felt so good that I was able to save a lot of shots,” Risher said. “That gave me and my team a lot of confidence.”

The goalie’s offensive teammates have also improved this year. Seniors Ross and Gabriella Vangeli and sophomore Olivia Halverson have formed a dynamic trio.

Ross has 21 goals and 22 assists in just five games. Vangeli has 21 goals and nine assists. Halverson is already up to 14 goals.

“They are not just shooters. They are threats with the ball,” Dunphey said. “The three of them make the defense slide because they always have their heads up.” 

Ross and Vangeli are best friends and have been playing together for years. Halverson earned a midfield starting spot last year and developed chemistry with Ross, an attack player, and Vangeli, an offensive midfielder.

But the trio entered the season needing to improve in some key areas, like moving without the ball and passing to cutters. They are doing more of those things this year, which has created open space around the net.

“We’re already making big strides on it,” Vangeli said.

In an April 2 road game at Montgomery High School, with 10 minutes left, Hillsborough was down two players after six yellow cards. The Raiders answered with three goals and cruised to a 16-5 victory.

Vangeli called it an early turning point in the team’s season.

“Everyone was moving and creating space,” she said. “The emphasis really showed in that game.”

“Since then it’s been looking really good,” Vangeli added. “But we still have a lot to improve on with it.”

That’s the challenge moving forward, especially with tough opponents looming on Hillsborough’s schedule.

“We have to continue moving and cutting throughout the game,” Vangeli said.