Hopkins boys soccer puts together another banner season

While most of the CIAC sports last fall had some semblance of a season, prep school teams, including those that reside in the Fairchester Athletic Association, did not.

Students at Hopkins were not all together for class — rotating groups each week — let alone having time to practice together or even hold a scrimmage. Hopkins boys soccer coach Joe Addison said he didn’t have his full squad for practice until there were six weeks remaining.

“So those last six weeks felt a little bit more normal. We had one intrasquad scrimmage,” Addison said. “I was mostly gutted for the seniors. For any senior, last year was an incredibly difficult year. To put it bluntly, it was hard.”

So like most schools with no games being held for the better part of two years, Addison wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when Hopkins played its first boys soccer game in September, 677 days after its last one. The results have exceeded his expectations.

The Hilltoppers had a 13-2-1 record during the regular season. That earned them the top seed in the Fairchester tournament. They open play in the semifinals Thursday at home.

They will be trying to win their fourth consecutive league championship.

“We compete against the top teams in New England,” senior midfielder Liam Spellacy said. “I couldn’t be more excited. We’ve been waiting a long time. This is a big week for sure.”

Among Hopkins’ victories this season include Salisbury (4-0), Avon Old Farms (1-0) and Kent (2-0). The Hilltoppers lost to Choate and Brunswick.

“I think we’ve had lots of great moments that fill me with pride. But that’s not all related to winning. This has been a wonderful reminder what it means to be on a team,” Addison said.

When everyone returned to in-person learning at Hopkins last spring, Addison met with his players. He made sure to pass along an important message.

“‘Take nothing for granted. Treasure and cherish every single minute of your time on the soccer field.’ To be with your best friends and classmates is what sports is all about,” Addison said.

Kids’ mental state throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the forefront of parents’ concerns. Addison credits assistant coach Dr. Josh Brant with helping stay on top of that.

Brant, a clinical psychologist, and Addison would check in on all of the players to see how they were outside of playing soccer and if they needed anything.

Spellacy is one of six seniors who were sophomores on Hopkins’ last FAA championship team in 2019. He wears the No. 16 — the number worn by former longtime Hopkins coach Eric Mueller when he played at Kenyon College.

The seniors determine which junior will wear that number for his senior season. Normally, the seniors let their teammate know in an in-person ceremony.

“It was done by text because of COVID restrictions in the spring,” Spellacy said. “It was a big moment. It represents that deep tradition at Hopkins. On the field, I would do anything I can to help the team gel, do the best I could to represent the number.”

The team has also raised close to $10,000 for Elm City Internationals, a non-profit that helps low-income youths from the New Haven area become part of a college preparatory academic program. Soccer is used to help that progress and Hopkins contributes each time it scores a goal.

The Hilltoppers have scored 47 goals this season. They scored 51 in 2019. They hope to add more on Thursday when they host St. Luke’s in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m.

Hopkins beat St. Luke’s in both the 2018 and 2019 championship games at home. This year’s final is Saturday afternoon at the highest remaining seed.

“For the FAA playoffs, you wipe the slate clean,” Addison said. “Hopefully, we will be competitive and hopefully we will win.”

joseph.morelli@hearstmediact.com; @nhrJoeMorelli