HILLSBOROUGH: Defense, experience are key for Raider girls soccer

By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
LeeAnn Best is hoping that her Hillsborough High School girls soccer team believes it can be as good as she foresees.
The Raiders have a tough opener going on the road to Hunterdon Central to start the season, but the HHS head coach is expecting things to progress well for this year’s group.
“It’s a matter of building their confidence,” Best said. “Hopefully they can build off the back line where there is experience and confidence.”
All three of Best’s senior captains are on the back line for the Raiders, who will lean on their defense early as the rest of the holes on the team are filled. Hillsborough has three pre-season scrimmages to work out its starting lineup.
“I think my problem this year is I’ll have a few holes to fill but two or three kids are equally talented,” Best said. “I’d like to keep all 25, but we can’t. It’s a good problem to have. We need those people to step up. It is a little bit of a drop-off.”
Strong competition within the team for playing time is something that they hope will benefit them against outside teams. The Raiders were 11-6-2 last season, and feature a good core that knows what to expect of its Skyland Conference foes.
“We have eight and a half returning starters,” Best said. “I had an injury halfway through the season and a girl stepped up. That’s a good number to start with, then there’s a drop-off from there. If that core can stay healthy and lead the way, that’s a good start.”
The top area for the team is the defense. The Raiders have their experience and leadership in the back, a solid building block for the team.
“We have a solid defense,” Best said. “All four returning starters are back. It’s good senior leadership. In my experience, if you have good senior leadership, it trickles down and the rest of the team plays for them. Just to have a solid defense, we can build our team from the back. They’re experienced players. The midfield is coming together. Three of my top five forwards are back, but I need a little more scoring.”
The three senior defenders who will captain the team are Tori Minutillo, Kate Swetz and Emily Washbourn. Kristen Malebranche is a junior who returns on defense as well. Other seniors vying for a spot on the team are: Sam Boyer, Ally Cichon, Molly Dupuis and Carrie Seelig. Juniors are: Alana Baron, Sophia Bjeeregaard, Alison Fong, Carly Swetz and Maddie Vailhe. Sophomores include Amelia Curtis, Cameron Howell, Jessica Koval, Lauren Mazich, Olivia Panagos and Alanna Ryan. The freshman potentials are: Olivia Bandola, Delany Smith, Kendall Smith and Erin Washbourn.
“We need to send some to JV so we have enough now,” Best said. “If they can go down and be a star on JV, they’re ready for varsity probably. We’re going to be rotating. We’ll see who wins spots to see what sorts of options we have.”
The Raiders likely will be forced to score in some different ways this year. They lost their top scorer and a key assist producer to graduation.
“My biggest scorer was Arielle Curtis, who’s playing at The College of New Jersey,” Best said. “Carly Swetz looks like she’s stepping up to fill that. Nicole Russo was a senior who may play at Scranton. She scored a lot of goals. She was a great corner kick taker. We did score a lot on corners. We had two girls that did a great job of taking them. Hopefully we can do a good job of replacing them.”
The Raiders are working to find how all their different talents will work together to provide offense. Hillsborough has some scoring ability back, and they are working to figure out how to support it all.
“I had about 17 or 18 goals out of two freshmen last year,” Best said. “Assuming they’re better this year, I’m hoping we can get in the 20s. That’ll take the pressure off the rest of them, and then hopefully that helps in the midfield.”
Hillsborough will be looking to get some offense from all parts of the field. They are looking to see how they will set up each other so they are a more dynamic offense.
“The key spots that we’re looking to fill are the feeders to those shots,” Best said. “It’s been the returners doing it on their own, and we know in this conference we can’t do that. We’re working on getting those feeders. We don’t want to lose any scoring, but we don’t want to rely too heavily on the girls that are returning.
“We try to attack from all angles,” she added. “I think the defense is going to contribute a bit more. Now that we’re set back there, we can take a few more risks going forward.”
It will be another challenging conference that the Raiders are faced with this year. Hillsborough is hoping they can piece a developing attack together with a stalwart defense to produce even better results than they had a year ago against their Skyland and Somerset County foes.
“Ridge ended the season well by using a lot of their youth,” Best said. “I think they’ll be tough to beat. They didn’t graduate a lot of studs. They have a good senior group that has been playing. Hunterdon Central is always good. They have a great junior group. Bridgewater, when we played them for the third time, they played a lot of subs and they weren’t that far off their starters. They did a real nice job playing so I don’t know how many of them are back.”
The Raiders are fine-tuning their positions so they are ready to compete against a tough schedule. Best would like to see her team ready to come out quickly and take it to their opponents. It’s a key to getting their season going.
“It’s going to be get the early lead and start the game hot and make the other teams try to catch up,” Best said. “That’ll put pressure on them, and that makes it tougher on any team. We work a lot on fitness. We’re working on communication and possession.”