For high school sports teams, it doesn’t get much better than the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys’ lacrosse team’s 2012 season.
The team finished at 20-3 and had one of the best seasons in school history, capturing the Mercer County Tournament title and reaching the Central Jersey Group II semifinals in the process. So after seeing several seniors graduate, including Kyle Hoehn, Elliot Rose, and Ryan Mahn, the Bulldogs have some big shoes to fill.
Head coach Rob Siris isn’t too worried.
“We have some very effective, successful juniors and sophomores in addition to our seniors,” he said. “This year is about reloading, not rebuilding.”
Siris said last year’s junior varsity and freshman squads surrendered only a combined three or four losses. Success at those stages, he said, translates onto the varsity field.
Seniors Nick DeBenedetto and Murf Butler said they see that development starting even earlier than high school. Butler said he and many of his teammates started playing the sport in local youth leagues as children, creating a feeder system that many other county schools don’t have.
“We have a great youth program around here,” Butler said. “I remember that excitement we felt once March rolled around, because that meant the season was starting. In middle school, we were even more excited because we were getting closer to representing Hopewell Valley on the high school team.”
That excitement shows. Lacrosse has become one of the school’s most successful athletic programs, which Siris attributes to his players’ willingness to do more than what’s required.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but it’s always about getting better,” he said. “This is a great team, but they always want to do more. They all worked hard in the offseason. That’s a testament to them.”
DeBenedetto said he and many of his teammates played in winter leagues in Robbinsville and at Rutgers together. With so many new faces this year, he said, it was a good way to create a sense of community.
“It helps you get a feel for playing with the new guys,” he said. “That chemistry was there before this season even started. There’s a new commitment to working out and becoming better all-around athletes.”
Butler said playing as a unit during the winter prepares them for the spring not only physically, but mentally as well. It gives them energy that readies them for the season long before it begins.
That sort of determination is exactly what Siris is looking for in his squad. He said it is one of the primary reasons Hopewell is consistently a top county team.
“Success breeds success,” he said. “We’re not overconfident, but we’re working hard. We’re looking for the younger kids to step up, as well as the veterans.”
In addition to DeBenedetto and Butler, Siris expects senior Chaz Bell, junior Lane Meyer, and sophomores Brady Moore and Lance Whittaker to be among the team’s top contributors.
Siris and his squad would like to ride the coattails of last year’s success, but he and his players all share the same sentiment: it’s a new season.
“We’ve been talking a lot,” he said. “We’re proud of what we did last year, but we’re ready to start over. We lost some seniors, but this team always wants to improve.”
Butler agreed. He said while it may seem easy to come back and ride last season’s momentum, they still have to “fill in some pieces.” Before their physical play can live up to the expectations set after last season, they need to prepare themselves mentally. DeBenedetto said they’re already there.
“There’s already a really good feel to this team,” he said. “We need to take it one day at a time and break everything down step-by-step. We all have roles to fill, and everyone’s really buying into it.”