The last two Hillsborough High School boys’ soccer teams have been remarkably similar.
In 2018, Hillsborough won with a balanced lineup that could possess the ball, score and defend. In 2019, the Raiders are also winning with a balanced lineup that can possess the ball, score and defend.
The only difference is all of the players.
After going 16-1-2 and winning the Somerset County Tournament title in 2018, the Raiders lost 18 seniors to graduation. But they did have nine juniors on a large varsity roster of 27 players.
Now those juniors are getting their chance as varsity starters, and they are making the most of their senior campaign. Hillsborough is 4-1 and on a four-game winning streak. It has not even allowed a goal since a 3-2 loss at Hunterdon Central Regional High School on Sept. 4, outscoring its last four opponents by a combined margin of 11-0.
These Raiders, despite a completely different lineup, look exactly like their predecessors.
Hillsborough’s coach, Eric Puma, is not surprised. He called last season the second best campaign in Hillsborough boys’ soccer history, behind a 17-2-2 season in 1984. And he felt the 2018 culture, of accountability and team play, rubbed off on the younger bench players.
“It’s their chance to fill those shoes and they can do it with the experience they have,” Puma said.
There is one crucial difference between this year’s Raiders and last year’s Raiders, at least so far. Last year’s team, as connected as it was, did still have two standouts in top scorer Justin Dominique and goalkeeper Nick Burd. Dominique posted 15 goals and seven assists while Burd recorded nine shutouts.
In 2019, Hillsborough is even more balanced. Seven different players have gotten on the score sheet during the team’s four game winning streak. Two different goalkeepers, junior Daniel Guerrero-Nieto and senior Devon Meissner, have earned victories and shutouts.
Senior Garrett Smith and junior Adam Sonbol, a new varsity player, each scored once in Hillsborough’s first victory of the season, 2-0 at Ridge High School on Sept. 7. Senior Christian Tyson and junior Dimitri Ramirez, also a new varsity player, combined for all three goals in Hillsborough’s 3-0 home triumph over Watchung Hills Regional High School on Sept. 10.
Senior Zach Hoyda and junior Alex Cervantes, yet another new varsity player, joined the scoring party in Hillsborough’s 3-0 home victory over Linden High School on Sept. 14.
“Those nine juniors (from last year) are going to be critical, but we’ll look for sophomores and juniors to find their places,” Puma said before the season.
The new senior class has been critical, and the younger players are quickly finding their places. Puma never expected last year’s team to be as good as it was, but now it seems like the program’s standard has been raised.
An amazing season can have that effect.
“We have a culture of hard work and being coachable and accountable,” Puma said. “And supporting one another.”
Last fall though, Hillsborough, the No. 3 seed, lost in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament to the No. 14 seed, Middletown High School South. It was the only blemish of an otherwise indelible campaign.
“We want to go a little farther than last year,” Puma said.