Take a squad of veterans who have been through the wars in the Skyland Conference, and add a group of rookies and freshmen, and it’s easy to see how the result might have been, at best, a process that could take most of a season to properly mix. At worst, it could have been total chaos.
Thanks to a group of upperclassmen with their eyes firmly fixed on the greater good and a talented group of newcomers that would make any team better, and the result for the Hunterdon Central High School girls soccer team has been as smooth as can be.
“It’s been seamless,” said Red Devils coach Jeannine Calhoun, whose team is led by senior co-captains Yota Sfondouris and Bianca DiTrolio. “The veterans have completely embraced them. They’re, obviously, really strong additions to our team and the veterans want what’s best for our team. It’s been team before self.
“Everyone’s so focused on the big picture. The seniors have really created an environment that if you’re on the team, you’re on the team. It’s really been class blind; it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, sophomore or junior.”
Offensively, Central is led by juniors Alli DeLuca and Christine Tack, a pair that combined for 28 goals and 19 assists last season and has notched 11 goals and five assists so far this year.
Along with an all-conference defender like Sfondouris centering the backline, as well as a host of other experienced varsity players all over the field, and the veteran talent is undeniable.
Add freshmen Gabi Provenzano, Luciana Zullo, Sarah Hazard and Brie Pavol, as well as sophomore keeper Bristol Pizzuto, a rookie, and Central is off to a 6-1 start after Tuesday night’s 4-1 thumping of Watchung Hills.
There is no question the Red Devils have moved from the ranks of also-ran to Skyland Conference Delaware Division powerhouse, joining the Pingry, Montgomery, Ridge, Bridgewater-Raritan and Watchung Hills as teams to be reckoned with on a state level. But through all the early-season success, which has included wins over Montgomery, Ridge and Somerville, as well as an overtime match with Pingry, and, Calhoun said, staying grounded has been as important as what happens between the lines.
“Our driving force has been the chemistry and our refusal to look past the game we’re currently in,” Calhoun said. “When we opened with Montgomery and beat them, everybody’s eyes got really big, including our own, and we really had to keep the focus on the fact it’s one game — one regular-season game.”
Hunterdon Central should continue it evolution and figures to be the favorite to defend its Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament championship and, perhaps, make an even deeper run in the state tournament, a drive that ended in the sectional semifinals last season.
Calhoun said one of Central’s preseason goals was to “Beat impact teams” and it was later upgraded to “Be impact team” by assistant coach Raul Rincon, and the Red Devils are well on their way.
“We’ve gotten better and better since scrimmage one,” Calhoun said. “Even in preseason, the degrees by which we were improving each scrimmage was by leaps and bounds. It’s an extremely coachable group, and part of the reason is they’re really smart soccer players. The excitement level is really high.”
Keep an eye on
Mount St. Mary is off to a fast start under new coach Phil Iuliano. The 6-1-1 Mount Lions will be in for their biggest test of the season Thursday when they visit powerhouse Somerville at 4 p.m. with first place on the line in the Skyland Conference Raritan Division.
Meaningless stat department
No team had scored more than one goal in any game involving Bridgewater-Raritan entering Tuesday’s meeting with Franklin. The Panthers had won, lost or tied 1-0, 1-1 or 0-0 in all six of their games before blanking the Warriors 5-0.