The Hopkinton High School girls soccer team graduated just four starters from a team that advanced to the final eight in the state tournament, and coach Tom Skiba is optimistic that this year’s team has a stout defense that could lead to another long tournament run.
“Our ability to possess the ball and create chances, it’s all based on having a very strong possession game,” Skiba said. “That was our core belief on how to play the game, that’s a core strength for us. But our defense, both the back line and the collective team defense, is quickly emerging as a strength for this team.”
Skiba said the Hillers have been working hard on team defense during the preseason and the early part of the regular season. HHS won its first six games and outscored opponents 19-4 in the process. Part of the early success is based on having settled on a rotation of goalkeepers to fill a hole created by graduation.
Sophomore Aila Chase is the core starter, Skiba said, with fellow sophomores Callie Arthur and Ella Nye rotating as backups.
To fill spots at attacking midfield, Skiba moved some of last year’s starters from the outside to the middle. Juniors Madison Recupero and Anagha Kulkarni are expected to play significant minutes after seeing a lot of the field last fall.
Sophomore Mairin O’Connor is another first-year player who is going to play quite a bit this year, and Skiba said she is “extremely productive.”
The Hillers once again will be led by Georgie Clarke, a senior and the reigning Tri-Valley League MVP and all-New England selection.
“She is the big scoring threat up front,” Skiba said.
The team welcomes back co-captain Brooke Birtwistle, who returns to the field after missing time last year due to injury.
“She is back, and we have her playing in the midfield,” Skiba said.
Recupero and Nina Tzouganatos were named the co-Coach’s MVP last year, and both juniors are expected to take on leadership roles again.
“They are really the heartbeat of our team in terms of controlling the flow of play through the middle of the field,” Skiba said.
Also of note, the Hillers have three sets of sisters, with sophomore Alex Clarke and freshman Sophia Tzouganatos joining their siblings, while senior Juliana Grontzos and her junior sister, Fotini, round out the trio.
“We are taking it one game at a time,” the coach added, “but the big goal for us is that we would love to be able to repeat as TVL Large School champions. If we are able to do that, we should be able to get into the tournament.”
The Hillers were knocked out of the tourney by Bishop Feehan last year. Skiba said he hopes to see his team play well enough during the regular season to earn a home tournament game this fall.
“Having a home game in the tournament is not something we have been able to do since I have been coaching,” Skiba said. “We would like to have that happen this year.”