BERNARDSVILLE, NJ — Almost 11 months after winning a state championship, the Bernards High School boys soccer team is scheduled to finally get back out on the pitch for its first game of the abbreviated 2020 regular season this week.

The Mountaineers, who won the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship last November, are slated to open their season at home against Somerville Thursday afternoon at Olcott Field. The season is starting nearly a month late and has been curtailed to 13 scheduled regular season games to conform with the limitations posed by COVID-19 regulations.

The team went 19-2-1 en route to the state crown in 2019, and most of that team is returning intact for another title run.

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"We have experience in tough games and the state championship last year," said Bernards head coach Joe Laspada. "Our team strength is our willingness is to work really hard in the games as a team."

The roster of returning players is long and impressive. It includes senior midfielder/forward Gilberto Ferreira (18 goals, 15 assists last year), senior midfielder Will Luik, junior midfielder J.J. Zaun (7 goals, 3 assists), senior goalie Elliott Dietrich (170 saves), sophomore defender Gregory Ferreira, senior midfielder Hernan Godoy-Vera (4 goals, 10 assists), senior defender/forward Johss Villasboa, senior defender Miguel Ortiz, junior back Sean Doran, defender Jack Warlick and goalie James Guerrero.

"Greg Ferreira is one of the best young centerbacks in the state," Laspada said. "JJ Zaun is one of the most talented, hard-working midfielders in the state. Hernan Godoy-Vera is one of the craftiest midfielders in the state. Gilberto Ferreira is one of the best left wingers in the state. Will Luik is an elite attacking midfielder (who's also one of the best) in the state. (And) Elliot Dietrich is one of the top goalies in the state."

The Mountaineers played 22 games in their state championship season, which was Laspada's 39th at Bernards High School. They will not, unfortunately, get to play that many this season. But, after all scholastic sports last spring were shut down entirely, getting in most of the 13 games on their schedule this fall, plus any post-season games, would qualify as a victory of a different sort in this year of staggering interruptions of normal life.

"We are hoping to play as many games as possible," Laspada said, "so the players coming back this year can enjoy playing as a team for their school and community. "