Hopewell Valley Central High School started the boys’ soccer season with seven straight victories.
And that hot streak has the Bulldogs in a strong position going into the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament.
Despite a recent cold streak in which they lost six of nine, the Bulldogs are still 10-6 overall and in sixth-place in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 power points standings. If the regular season ended today, Hopewell Valley would earn a first round home game in the state sectional bracket.
Hopewell Valley will open the state sectional tournament on Oct. 26 or 29, depending on its seed, matchup and location.
Regardless of who Hopewell Valley plays, the Bulldogs will be formidable. They have players who can score, control possession and defend.
But more than anything, they may have a goalkeeper who can carry them.
Senior Liam May has 113 saves and five shutouts this fall. He made seven saves in a 1-0 victory over Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Maryland, on Sept. 14. He made nine and five saves, respectively, in 1-0 victories over Hightstown High School and Princeton High School earlier this fall.
The senior has even kept the Bulldogs in a lot of their recent losses, making 10 and five saves, respectively, in one-goal losses to Delran High School and Notre Dame High School.
May is also experienced as a second-year starter. Last year, he helped lead the Bulldogs to the Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament quarterfinals, where they fell to Wall High School, 2-0.
Hopewell Valley will not just have a talented and experienced keeper, either, this postseason. The Bulldogs scored 19 goals during their 7-0 start to the season, and they have scored multiple goals in seven of their 10 victories.
Senior forward Zach Crow and junior forward Ryan Molano have formed a nice tandem up front. Crow has nine goals and an assist this season, while Molano has five goals and two assists.
But the Bulldogs have been struggling to score goals of late, getting shut out in three recent losses to Westfield High School on Oct. 5, Robbinsville High School on Oct. 10 and Steinert High School on Oct. 14. They have been shut out in four of their six losses overall.
When Hopewell Valley scores, it wins, because the Bulldogs are pretty consistent defensively. May’s defenders, junior Carter Colt, junior Luke Harrison, senior Justin Lauricella, junior Matthew Linthorst and junior Anand Wetzel have helped slow down opponents throughout the campaign.
Hopewell Valley’s midfielders, junior Mason Bursac, senior Joe Geary, junior Seamus Johnson, senior Alek Michelson and junior Danny Rollo, have been essential to that effort as well. They have also contributed on the score sheet, combining for five goals and four assists.
The Bulldogs are solid, but also reeling. They really have to start scoring again if they want to make a run in the state sectional tournament. But really, they just have to start playing better overall.
Hopewell Valley was a connected and well-rounded team during those first seven games, outscoring opponents 19-4. It can become that team again, too. There is no reason why the Bulldogs can’t hang and potentially win versus schools of similar size in Central Jersey, Group 3.