Hillsborough out to defend Skyland Cup title

Coming into Saturday’s Skyland Cup semifinals, the Hillsborough High School boys volleyball team has won 10 of its last 12 matches, with the only losses coming to out-of-area squads.

The top-seeded Raiders, who will play the conference tournament on their home floor, finished with a 7-1 record in Skyland Conference matches, their only loss to second-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan.

In fact, Bridgewater-Raritan racked up an identical 7-1 conference record, with its only loss coming in the second meeting of the season against Hillsborough. The two squads appear destined for a third matchup in the finals.

“It’s impossible to not think about things like that, but we know that we have a big step in front of us,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Corey Romanak said.

Hillsborough will have to take care of fourth-seeded Ridge in the first semifinal, which will get underway around 10 a.m.

The Red Devils, who struggled in conference play and recorded a 3-6 mark against Skyland opponents, defeated fifth-seeded Watchung Hills on Wednesday to advance to the final four.

Ridge had a difficult time winning points against Hillsborough in the two regular-season meetings. In all, Ridge collected just 64 points in the two matches to Hillsborough’s 100.

“For us, our mentality is always one opponent at a time and one match at a time,” Hillsborough coach Todd Sudol said. “We’re preparing for Ridge like we would for anyone else — we never overlook an opponent. They’re well-balanced and they have some good hitters. We prepare for all of our opponents the same, regardless of if we’ve beaten them already.”

In the second semifinal, scheduled to begin 20 minutes after the Hillsborough-Ridge match, Bridgewater-Raritan and third-seeded Hunterdon Central meet for the third time this year. The Panthers won both meetings in the regular season, outscoring Hunterdon Central 125-100.

In the second matchup on April 18, Hunterdon Central hung tough, winning the first set before running out of steam. Of the Red Devils’ four Skyland losses this season, they all came against Hillsborough and Bridgewater-Raritan.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season, so right now, we’re focused on Hunterdon Central,” Romanak said. “I could tell you that the two times we’ve played them, they’ve been our two best matches this season and by far the most competitive We’re two evenly matched teams and I expect a lot of the same.”

Last season, Hillsborough topped Hunterdon Central in the final in the inaugural Skyland Cup. Playing on their home court this time isn’t something Sudol expects to have much of an impact on his squad.

“When you have a team that’s focused on goals that they’re trying to achieve, you have to look beyond where you’re playing the games,” Sudol said. “It doesn’t change much of the end result. The goal is to win the tournament for the second year in a row.”

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