The 2021 edition of the Hillsboro High School boys soccer team kicks off its new season this afternoon, Aug. 23, as the orange and black travels to Virden to take on the North Mac Panthers.
For the Toppers, the beginning will be a bit of a challenge as the squad’s first five games will be on the faster artificial surfaces at North Mac, then at Taylorville Wednesday, then back to North Mac for at least two more in the newly rebranded “Kickoff Classic on Route 66”.
For decades, the Toppers had spent the first weekend of their seasons in Carlinville at the Kickoff Classic, but this year, with a few teams subtracted and a couple of others added, and with the North Mac and Carlinville schools having the turf fields, things were changed and it couldn’t be a neater way for Hillsboro to get started.
“It’ll definitely be a little bit of a disadvantage for us because so few of our guys have any experience on the artificial surface save an every other year trip to Mater Dei,” Topper coach Jason Burke said. “Not going to lie, we’ve been spoiled by our field at home being so nice and wide and flat. Several other coaches have complimented us on our field, too, so this first week and a half will be new to us. We’ve been practicing on hard surfaces like tennis courts and gym floors to get prepared; then we were able to get an afternoon indoor at LSI in Litchfield in hopes of figuring out the speed. The turf might be tough for us to get used to but hopefully we’ll be ready.”
For the Toppers, the short off season was a welcome sight as they lost only three players to graduation last year. Those three players, however, were Shaw Riggs, the two time defending SCC First Team All Conference goalkeeper, two year varsity starter Frankie Passariello, and key sub Colin Woods-Butler.
With holes like that to fill, especially between the pipes, there were more questions than answers heading into the off season.
Fortunately, for the Toppers, the answer came in the form of sophomore Mitchell Lowe, who is new to the team this year and has worked very hard at learning the craft. Fellow sophomore Nathan Brown is also on hand at keeper, so though young and both inexperienced in varsity games, Burke feels confident in both.
“We have lots of confidence in both Mitchell and Nathan. We also have freshman Clayton Rufus who does a great job. Mitchell is a big guy and that always helps when you can take up space like he does. Nathan is little but quick and so is Clayton. What one doesn’t have the other does.”
The beginning of the season will be much different than it has been in the past three as the Toppers will be without offensive standout Ethan Lentz. Lentz, who suffered an injury in the offseason, will be out for at least two weeks. It’s been offense by committee so far this fall, so once again the question marks.
“To lose a guy like E for any length of time is obviously going to hurt. We’re going to be better when he comes back, that’s for sure, but we’ve got a group who has stepped up and has definitely tried to fill the void. Time will tell but we will find a way. We’ve got incredible senior leaders like Ayden Brewer, Devin Speiser, and Gavin Matoush. They’ve all been irreplaceable pieces for four years. Then we have our juniors in Will Christian and Adison Pollard who are field rats, staying after practice every night and working on the boring stuff nobody wants to work on, but it’s the stuff that makes you better. We’ve got a ton of sophomores coming back too and a big group of freshmen, several who are varsity ready. Should be a fun year and hopefully a successful one.”
Follow the Toppers all season long in The Journal-News.