Young Hillsborough field hockey squad gears up for state playoff tournament

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Hillsborough High School field hockey player Michelle Fruge dribbles the ball up the field past Hunterdon Central's Ellie Bill during a game played on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough. Hillsborough lost to Hunterdon Central by a score of 4-1. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School field hockey player Madelyn Kidd hits the ball up the field during the team's game against Hunterdon Central on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough. Kidd scored her third goal of the season in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School field hockey player Lauren Flynn dribbles the ball into the crease during the team's game against Hunterdon Central on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough. The Raiders are 5-7 through their first 12 games of the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School field hockey player Michelle Fruge dribbles the ball up the field past Hunterdon Central's Ellie Bill during a game played on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough. Hillsborough lost to Hunterdon Central by a score of 4-1. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School field hockey player Madelyn Kidd hits the ball up the field during the team's game against Hunterdon Central on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough. Kidd scored her third goal of the season in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School field hockey player Lauren Flynn dribbles the ball into the crease during the team's game against Hunterdon Central on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough. The Raiders are 5-7 through their first 12 games of the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

HILLSBOROUGH – The state playoffs are right around the corner, and the Hillsborough High School field hockey team is gearing up to make a nice run in the Central West Region Group B Tournament.

Hillsborough is the No. 6 seed in the bracket and will host No. 13 Somerville High School in the first round of the tournament on Nov. 13.

With no certainty during summer workouts that the team would even have a chance to play this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hillsborough Coach Jennifer Puritz believes it’s been a blessing for her squad to play this fall.

“It’s unreal that we’re here playing in the second week of November,” Puritz said. “We have been taking things day by day because we don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I think we are happy with the situation where we’re at.”

Hillsborough is 5-7 heading into its final regular season contest against Watchung Hills Regional High School on Nov. 12.

The Raiders are a young squad, led by a core group of sophomores up top on the front line.

Sophomore forwards Michelle Fruge and Madelyn Kidd lead Hillsborough with a team-high three goals scored this fall, while Kidd is also tied with senior Heather Suraci for the team lead in assists with two.

Both sophomore Giulia Cicciari and freshman Hailey Vogt each have two goals scored and an assist this season for the Raiders.

Junior Hailey Bianchino anchors the team in the midfield and has racked up a pair of goals for the Raiders this fall.

Both sophomore Kerri O’Donnell and senior Niyati Ramanathan have played well this season in the cage for Hillsborough at the goalkeeper position.

Senior Juliet Dima has found the back of the cage once this fall for Hillsborough as well.

“There are a lot of young girls on the team and I’m excited for the rest of the season and the next few seasons to come,” Puritz said. “We have a core group of sophomore and freshmen girls coming up. I’m excited about the future.”

Kidd recorded her team-high third goal of the season during Hillsborough’s contest against Hunterdon Central Regional High School of Flemington on Nov. 10 in Hillsborough.

Dribbling the ball all the way into the crease, Kidd smacked in the team’s only score of the day with 3:33 left to play in the contest.

“I like it when I get the ball in space because it makes it easier to get around people and get a clear shot on goal,” Kidd said on her third goal of the season. “It was nice to get us on the board.”

Hillsborough went on to lose to Hunterdon Central by the score of 4-1. The Raiders earned a 3-1 victory over The Pingry School of Basking Ridge in their game prior on Nov. 3 and are 3-2 in their last five games played.

Those five games have been played over the course of 22 days. The long layoff in between games has been due to Hillsborough having teams on its schedule having to cancel or push back games because of COVID-19 issues, Puritz said.

Puritz said the lack of playing has hurt her squad and that it’s important for Hillsborough to get back into rhythm in these last few games before postseason play begins.

“Just playing two regular games is going to be super helpful since that hasn’t been the norm the last two weeks and will be a good mood booster for us,” Puritz said. “We’re definitely ready to bring it the next few days.”

As Hillsborough prepares to face Somerville, Puritz is confident in her young squad and believes they have what it takes to earn a victory and advance in the tournament.

Winning a state playoff game for the third year in a row would be important to the program in the eyes of Puritz.

From being a young team to playing during a global pandemic, gaining more experience and advancing in the tournament would be a big spirit booster for everyone, Puritz said.

“We’re definitely a strong team,” Puritz said. “ I’m confident in our girls and believe we have a good shot to win the game.”