HOPKINTON — No matter what type of sport or level of competition you watch, chances are you are going to find a small handful of teams that always seem to compete every single season. Sometimes the dynastic programs have hiccups, but they always find their footing in short order.
Then there are longer-term projects, some of which take years to come to full fruition.
Just off Route 85 in the hills of Hopkinton, there is a high school girls soccer program that has suddenly taken the state by storm, and its resurgence all stems from one word.
“I think that all of the players have put in a tremendous amount of effort in improving their athleticism, their individual technical skills, and with understanding what we want to do as a team tactically,” said Hillers coach Tom Skiba. “They’ve all put in tremendous effort in those areas, but I’d say the biggest difference this year is that the team has really come together this year, as teammates and friends.”
As recently as the 2019 season, Hopkinton was a .500 program (7-7-1). Back then, the current class leading the way was finishing up middle school. Skiba was fairly new himself to the coaching scene with the Hillers at the time. In years since, the school had seen steady improvement with each passing fall.
This campaign, however, was somewhat unexpected. Now the Hillers, labeled as one of the teams in the Commonwealth to beat, are in the midst of a perfect season at 15-0-0.
“It’s been awesome,” said Skiba. “We take everything day by day, game by game. We’re adjusting to what we need to work on and develop and to improve. Everyone has one hundred and ten percent bought into what we’re trying to accomplish.”
That’s not to say there hasn’t been some newfound pressure. After fighting for relevance in the difficult field known as the Tri-Valley League for years, Hopkinton suddenly has a bulging target on its respective back.
“It’s been helpful that we’ve had a specific core group that has been able to stay on the team a long time,” said senior captain and Connecticut College commit Juliana Grontzos. “That kind of helps strengthen the bond that we already have. Then, we can kind of bring in the new players as well with those relationships.”
Led by their seven seniors, the Hillers are maintaining a strong focus as they look to polish off a historic campaign. However, that’s not to say the group isn’t reveling in their recent success. At the very least, they have heard the whispers.
How could one avoid the publicity? It’s everywhere. In the latest Div. 1 power rankings released Friday, the school was seeded No. 3 overall in the polls with a rating of 4.2074. At this stage, the Hillers only trail perennial powerhouses Natick and Bishop Feehan for supremacy, according to the metric.
In the eyes of fellow senior captain Brooke Birtswhistle (three goals, two assists), keeping the pedal to the medal has aided the Hillers in their pursuit of perfection.
“I’d like to say we ignore (the power rankings),” laughed the Purdue commit. “But we don’t ignore them that well. We try not to think about it before every game. Like everyone said, we play it game by game. Even if we’re up by three goals, we set it back to zero-zero in our head. We play as hard in the last ten minutes as we did in the first minute.”
Hopkinton has been led offensively by junior Maddie Recupero (13 goals, 10 assists) and senior Georgina Clarke (13 goals, nine assists). Senior captain Johanna Dupont has added a boost with five goals and five assists.
“Since the beginning of the season, everyone has gone along really well, which makes coming to practice and working hard together even more fun,” Dupont said. “It’s really exciting to see all of the hard work paying off, seeing that we’re doing so well. I just look forward to continuing that success throughout the rest of the season.”
The Hillers have outscored opponents at incredulous clip, potting 54 goals while surrendering just six this fall. For most of the year, they were forced to do so without one of their premier stars as Steph Johnson looked to return from a sprained ankle. In her second game back, she sniped a goal to help key a 9-1 victory over rival Norwood on Senior Night.
“It was really nice for me,” said Johnson. “But I think just being able to be back and sharing the environment on the field that I’ve been able to witness from the sidelines is something that is really exciting for me. I have a really optimistic outlook for the tournament, and the rest of the season.”
A perfect season is firmly within reach for Hopkinton, and it all comes down to the remainder of the school’s TVL slate. The Hiller will play a road game this upcoming Tuesday against Medfield, before closing things out with consecutive home games against Holliston and Westwood.
Then, it’s onto the Div. 1 postseason, where they will aim to put a final stamp on things with a possible championship.
“Everybody’s kind of taking notice of how successful we’ve been,” Johnson said. “But I think it’s really essential for us to play every game just like we have no record. Regardless, just play as a team and play for each other. I think we’ve kind of had this goal throughout the season that the four of us captains and the team have outlined, that we want to play every game to our intensity, no matter the standings of the opponent. Just play like this is going to be our hardest game, the championship. I think that has led to a lot of our success this year.”
Norwood’s Sophia Venditti, left, heads the ball behind Hopkinton’s Abigail Waters during a girls soccer clash Thursday in Hopkinton. (Staff Photo/Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)