Seniors helped HoVal return to elite level

Hopewell Valley boys soccer

By: Jim Green
   With the full winter schedule fast approaching, this is a good time to take a step back and reflect on what the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys soccer team accomplished this spring.
   The Bulldogs brought HoVal back to the upper echelon of the state, going 17-3-3, winning the Central Jersey Group III sectional and Colonial Valley Conference Patriot Division crowns and earning a share of the Mercer County Tournament title. There were tremendous contributions all over the field and on the sidelines, as this unique group banded together to give the community a season it won’t soon forget.
   "This was a special year," Hopewell coach Ed Gola said. "You look back on it now, and you’re definitely proud of what you did. During the season, you’re just playing, and you don’t have a chance to look back on it."
   Their accomplishments were justly recognized at the CVC’s postseason banquet Dec. 1 at the Ancient Order of Hibernians club in Hamilton. Gola took home the Glen "Mooch" Mayernick Coach of the Year Award, senior A.J. Juiliano corralled the Judge Al Cooper Goalkeeper of the Year Award, and senior Matt Lanouette captured the Bobby Smith Defender of the Year Award.
   In addition to Juiliano and Lanouette, other All-CVC First Team honorees were senior midfielders Jack Spencer and Henry Idowou. Bulldogs on the Second Team included senior back Greg Reading and senior forward Bryan Kuppe. Junior back Mark Squicciarino and junior forward Eric Doran were named to the Third Team, while senior midfielder Bryan Williams garnered an honorable mention.
   The season was a special one from Day 1, as Hopewell opened with a 4-0 win over a solid West Windsor-Plainsboro North squad and went on to a 4-0-2 start, including hard-fought ties against fellow CVC powers Hightstown and West Windsor-Plainsboro South. The Bulldogs then suffered two tough one-goal losses to strong squads from Montgomery and Neshaminy in a four-game stretch. Instead of bringing Hopewell down, those losses only seemed to make the team stronger, as it reeled off eight straight wins, including a shootout win over a pesky Hamilton squad in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. The Bulldogs blew out Steinert 7-0 in the semifinals before battling Notre Dame to a scoreless tie in the championship.
   HoVal then moved on to the state tournament, where it finished its season playing a brand of soccer that would have made any of the great teams in Hopewell history proud. The Bulldogs cruised past Long Branch 3-0 in the opening round, setting up a re-match with Hightstown in the sectional semifinals. Kuppe netted two goals — one in each half — as the Bulldogs dispatched of their conference rival and headed to Monroe for the final. There, Juiliano stood on his head for nearly 90 minutes, giving unsung hero Adam Leestma a chance to shine. With less than 10 seconds left in the game, Leestma deposited his first goal of the season, giving the Bulldogs their first sectional title in three years.
   Four days later in the final, Kuppe and Idowou had spectacular goals, and Hopewell battled Ocean City to the wire before falling 3-2 in overtime. The one consolation was that Ocean City went on to beat Scotch Plains-Fanwood handily in the final to earn the championship.
   Kuppe, who had eight goals and five assists in the county and state tournaments combined, finished as the team’s leading scorer with 15 goals and 11 assists. Idowou had eight goals and three assists, Lanouette had six goals and five assists, and Spencer had six goals and four assists. Juiliano had 12 shutouts to anchor the defense. These seniors, as well as Reading, goalie Steve O’Neil, Williams, Feddy Wightman, Danny Reeves, Leestma, Ben Hone, Chris Birkhofer and Michael Bostwick, all made significant contributions to the Bulldogs’ run, and all will be missed.
   "It made coaching easy," Gola said. "They wanted to come to practice and work hard and win. They got rewarded. After the season’s over, you always think the guys are going to be hard to replace, and they are hard to replace. It’s just a matter of the next group stepping up and doing what’s expected of Hopewell soccer."
   There is a solid core returning, led by juniors Doran, Tim Kianka, Squicciarino, Chris Tantum, Aubrey Holmes and Kris Ryan and sophomores Nigel Rodriguez and Ryan Brost. There is plenty of talent there, and plenty of reason to believe the Bulldogs once again will be among the state’s elite in 2006.
   "To repeat what we did this year will be difficult," Gola said. "But it’ll be a whole new group with their own goals."