Offseason check-in: Hillsborough boys’ ice hockey and Hillsborough softball

Scott Jacobs

Hillsborough High School’s boys’ ice hockey and girls’ softball teams both enjoyed great seasons this past school year.

Despite losing their best players after those campaigns, both programs should find success in 2019-20 as well.

July is a quiet time for scholastic sports, which means it’s also a time for reflection. As players from both programs went about their own summer training programs in the first couple weeks of July, their coaches at Hillsborough discussed their potential moving forward.

Chris Tommins has been leading the Hillsborough boys’ ice hockey program for three years. Cheryl Iaione is an institution in Hillsborough Township, having guided the high school’s softball team for 24 seasons.

In 2018-19, Tommins’ ice hockey squad finished 21-7-1 and reached the NJSIAA Public A Tournament final, losing to Morris Knolls High School, 6-1, on March 4 at the Prudential Center in Newark.

After the deepest playoff run in program history, the Raiders lost their best player, leading scorer Jude Kurtas, who left to play junior hockey. But all of Hillsborough’s other key players should be back next winter.

In 2019, Iaione’s softball club went 14-5 and won the Somerset County Tournament title with an 8-1 victory in the title game over Ridge High School on May 10 at the Torpey Athletic Complex in Bridgewater.

Although they lost in the first round of the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional tournament, the Raiders’ season was still successful.

After it ended, the Raiders lost three of their best offensive players in seniors Julia Kwiatek, Karlie Manco and Delaney Smith. But everyone else should return for 2020, including top pitcher Courtney Wengryn.

So even during the slow summer days of July, both coaches got excited when they started thinking about the upcoming school year.

Upon approval from the Hillsborough Board of Education, both Tommins and Iaione will be back for 2019-20. The board’s next public meeting is scheduled for July 22, 2019.

“As upsetting as losing a state title game was, it’s motivating me,” Tommins said. “We have a lot of talented players back.”

“We lost a lot of talent but we have a lot returning,” Iaione said. 

Kurtas led the Hillsborough ice hockey team with 57 goals, 55 assists and 112 points in 2018-19. He was in the conversation for best player in New Jersey.

Tommins knows he won’t replace Kurtas. So the coach is hoping to merely replace his production with three new 15-20 goal scorers. He views rising senior Mike Panchery, rising sophomore Paul Fedora and rising sophomore Patrick Lewicki as prime breakout candidates.

“We could be a more balanced team,” Tommins said. “I’m excited to see where these kids go.”

Kwiatek, Manco and Smith combined to produce 88 of Hillsborough’s 135 runs scored during the 2019 softball campaign. The trio gave Iaione a solid core to craft her lineups around all spring.

The veteran coach knows she won’t just directly replace that core. Even with five starters slated to return, the Raiders will morph into a different offensive beast in 2020.

Iaione is not exactly sure what that will look like. But she is confident it will form around Emily Orr and Sierra Skala, two plus .400 hitters in 2019. That’s not a bad place to start with any lineup.

“Players will be different but that doesn’t mean we can’t be as successful,” Iaione said. “Younger ones will step in and roles will expand.”