HILLSBOROUGH – The final two weeks of the 2022 season was a splendid one to say the least for the Hillsborough High School field hockey team.
The biggest highlight of it all was the Raiders bringing home the program’s first sectional championship since 1983 on Nov. 10 against Phillipsburg High School in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Group IV final.
Hillsborough knocked off the top-seeded Stateliners on their home turf, 5-4, to add another sectional title to the program record books.
“Winning (the sectional championship) was huge for us,” said coach Jennifer Puritz. “It’s something that we’ve been working together as a team for the past four seasons.”
Puritz just wrapped up her sixth season as Hillsborough’s head coach. Over the last three seasons, Puritz had led the Raiders to 41 victories to go along with winning the program’s first sectional title in almost 40 years.
A big part of that success as Puritz would tell you has been the strong contributions her group of seniors has given the program the last four seasons.
The 2023 senior class for Hillsborough featured Ella Bandola, Giulia Cicciari, Alexis Dima, Lauren Flynn, Michelle Fruge, Rebecca Gear, Reva Hajarnis, Hallie Hand, Madelyn Kidd, Kylie Marley, Abigail Mastakas, Kerri O’Donnell, Nithika Ramanathan and Danielle Rotolo.
The 14 seniors racked up a mark of 52-30-2 in their high school career.
“It’s a good feeling to leave this mark on the program,” Flynn said. “You put four years into the program, and you want to be remembered for something and we did that this year.”
O’Donnell started all four seasons in the cage as Hillsborough’s starting goalkeeper racking 514 saves in her career for the Raiders.
“Getting over the 500-save mark was a huge ‘Wow’ moment for me,” O’Donnell said. “I didn’t think I would make it to 500. It feels great.”
Kidd was a true offensive force for the Raiders, tallying 37 goals and 19 assists over the course of the past four seasons.
Flynn, Rotolo, Mastakas, Cicciari and Fruge were each key leaders all over the field during the past three seasons for Hillsborough.
The biggest victory during the 2022 sectional tournament for Hillsborough came against rival Ridge High School in the semifinals on Nov. 8.
Coming into the contest, Hillsborough was 0-6-2 against Ridge the last four seasons, which included last month’s 4-3 loss to the Red Devils in overtime of the Somerset County Tournament championship game.
The Raiders finally got past Ridge in the sectional semifinal, beating the Red Devils, 2-1, to advance to the sectional final.
“Beating Ridge was a huge thing for everyone on this team,” Flynn said.
Hillsborough had gotten over its “Ridge” hump and a sectional championship was on the horizon a few days later against Phillipsburg.
Led by O’Donnell’s 15 saves in the cage and sophomore Hannah Bianchino scoring a game-high two goals, the Raiders became sectional champions, capturing another signature moment this postseason.
“There was no euphoria like winning (sectional championship) with this team,” said Flynn. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”
Hillsborough’s 2022 campaign ended in the Group IV final on Nov. 12 at Bordentown Regional High School with a 4-1 loss to Kingsway.
Bianchino registered the only goal in the contest for the Raiders, ending her sophomore campaign with a team-high 20 goals.
O’Donnell mustered 22 saves in the cage to keep Hillsborough in the game, allowing her to reach over 500 saves for her career and end her senior campaign with 173 saves.
Junior Kaitlyn Williams led the way in the assist column for Hillsborough this fall, tallying a team-high 18 assists and also scored 14 goals.
It may not have been a perfect ending to a postseason for Hillsborough, but it didn’t take away from how “proud” Puritz is of her team’s accomplishments this season.
“It’s been impressive watching this group work together and grow together,” Puritz said. “We had high expectations at the beginning of the season and thought we could go far if we put in the work. They did and they deserved to be (in the state final). I’m very proud of them.”
Hillsborough ends the season with a record of 19-4-2.