HILLSBOROUGH — Defending a championship trophy is something any team that holds one wants to do.
For the Hillsborough High School boys volleyball team, retaining their Skyland Cup wasn’t going to be an easy task, especially against an opponent like Bridgewater-Raritan.
Behind the steady play of setter Joe DeLuca and the outstanding serving of Tim Erdman, the Raiders defended the Skyland Cup, winning 2-0 (25-17, 25-16) on their home floor Saturday afternoon.
“It’s exciting to play at the level we did against Bridgewater-Raritan,” Hillsborough coach Todd Sudol said. “They have a great coach, who’s tough to coach against, and he always puts out great teams. We were both equally matched coming in, and in a final, you can’t ask for anything more, to go up against a team of that caliber and that quality. I’m just proud of the way my guys stepped up today.”
The Raiders took a 10-9 lead in the first set and never relinquished the advantage for the remainder of the match. DeLuca, the top assist man on Hillsborough’s roster, was in the middle of things right from the start, setting up his teammates for kills throughout the contest.
“Every single practice, you’re working hard to set up the hits and run these plays and to see them actually work against a rival of ours in Bridgewater-Raritan is the greatest feeling ever,” DeLuca said.
Bridgewater-Raritan tried to stop two different Hillsborough runs with timeouts in the first set, but the Raiders just kept swinging and landing their kills. At the end of the first set, Alex Duncan connected on three perfect serves and then made a diving play, going to his left, to secure the set-point and put the Raiders on top.
Early in the second set, it was all about the serving ability of Hillsborough, led by Erdman, whose ace to make the score 13-7 prompted Panthers head coach Corey Romanak to call another timeout. Bridgewater-Raritan never got the lead inside of seven points the rest of the way.
“My teammates gave me the lead there and it allowed me to take a bit of a risk on the serves,” Erdman said. “I felt the confidence and they kept telling me to jump and go for it. I have to thank my teammates for all they did in front of me today.”
The two teams had split a pair of regular-season meetings, with each team winning on the other’s home floor, but it was evident from the start that Hillsborough was the team to beat on Saturday.
“It just seemed like Hillsborough wanted it more than us,” Romanak said. “We made a couple too-many mistakes and against a team like Hillsborough, you make too many mistakes, you’re not going to win the match.”
The Panthers found themselves with the ball and a chance to cut into the Hillsborough lead multiple times in the match, but serves into the net and astray passes did them in.
Passing certainly wasn’t an issue for Hillsborough, especially with DeLuca setting up Andrew Domowicz, Duncan and Scott Timko for easy kills on the outside of the Raiders’ formation. Timko came up with the championship-winning kill, giving Hillsborough the first two Skyland Cup trophies.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” DeLuca said. “We set a goal in the beginning of the season to win the Skyland Cup again and we came in here, knowing that we split with Bridgewater-Raritan, but we were just as pumped and we’re excited to win again. It’s an awesome feeling.”