The Hillsborough High School boys’ soccer team posted a .500 record in 2017.
No one expected the Raiders to do much better the following fall.
Then Hillsborough enjoyed the school’s best boys’ soccer season in over three decades.
The Raiders went 16-1-2, the program’s best record since a 17-2-2 campaign in 1984. Last fall, Hillsborough also won the Skyland Conference’s Delaware Division and the Somerset County Tournament title, with a 1-0 upset victory over the No. 1 seed, The Pingry School, in the championship match on Oct. 27, 2018.
Hillsborough’s season finally ended on Oct. 29 at home. In the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament, the Raiders fell by the upset to Middletown High School South, 2-1.
“We only had one day of rest after the Somerset County championship,” said Hillsborough coach Eric Puma. “It was tough to turn around and play another important game 48 hours later.”
After their banner season, the Raiders earned a public proclamation from the Hillsborough Township Committee and a public recognition from the Hillsborough Board of Education.
“It was one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had playing soccer and I’ve been playing since I was six,” said 17 year old Nick Burd, Hillsborough’s senior goalkeeper.
Burd and nine other seniors formed most of Puma’s starting lineup.
Some were elite talents, like senior forward Justin Dominique, an All-New Jersey selection who recorded 15 goals and seven assists this past fall, and earned a spot in The College of New Jersey’s 2019 freshmen soccer class. But most of the Raiders were more like Burd: solid high school players coming together for one last ride.
Burd is going to Rowan University and joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps next year. When the fall season started, he harbored some hopes of playing collegiate soccer. But he also had a pretty good idea that this would be the last season of his career, and he wanted to make the most of it.
His classmates felt the same way, so they went out and gave maximum effort in every game.
“If someone went into a tackle they either won or showed the other team not to mess with us,” Burd said.
The Raiders’ strengths were size and experience. Every starter stood at least 6-0 tall and had been playing on varsity for multiple years. Those things plus a little talent. They were all the Raiders needed.
Hillsborough outscored opponents 53-17. Burd sparked a defense that posted nine shutouts. Eighteen players registered at least one goal or assist.
“We had strength from front to back,” Puma said. “So many players made a difference at different times.”
Puma’s senior class consisted of Burd, Dominique and Zurab Bedoshvili as its captains. But it also featured Simon Angelo, Scott Bandola, Christian Bogado, Nick Bogado, Cameron Bruno, Jorge Cervantes, Dan Chesner, Michael Fazio, John Gadaleta, Alfredo Gonzalez, Ryan Mehrtens, Dan Prusa, John Renz, Matt Roteman, Michael Rudbart and Justin Zinger.
They will all graduate from Hillsborough on June 20 and then move on to the next phases of their lives. But they will always share the fall of 2018, when they learned a fundamental life lesson: hard work pays off.
“These boys will say, ‘We weren’t always the most talented team,'” Puma said. “‘But hard work and character came together.'”
“It was awesome,” Burd said.