(Fourth in a series in which the Globe profiles a varsity high school team from Eastern Massachusetts.)
Last season, the Belmont Hill boys’ soccer team finished third in the Independent School League.
It was considered a disappointment.
“We felt as though we didn’t really have our best season [in 2018],” said senior striker Matt Goncalves of Everett. “Now we’re just out here trying to prove ourselves.”
This season, the Hillies are 7-0-1, atop the ISL with a 4-0-1 mark in league play, Goncalves is tied for second in the league with 11 points (5 goals, 1 assist), after finishing third with 35 points last season. The senior captains, midfielder Hamza Shemsu (Cambridge) and defender Cole Matthews (Wellesley), are rock solid in the middle, and senior keeper James Cahill (Wellesley) has been important.
Coach Jorge Montoya has won more than 300 games in his 28-year career at Belmont Hill. He’s led the Hillies through a tough early-season schedule, with Wednesday’s 2-2 tie with ISL elite Rivers the only non-win of the year.
Here’s five things you might not know about Belmont Hill:
Ankle injuries seemed to follow Goncalves. The striker missed chunks of both his sophomore and junior seasons, mostly due to an issue with his peroneal tendon, which runs from the lower leg through the middle of the foot.
“Normally I would go to take a shot, and my foot would just buckle,” Goncalves said.
Senior year has been different. Goncalves credits his newfound burst to Functional Patterns, a physical therapy method that focuses on the body as a unit.
“It’s kind of a whole-body method,” Goncalves said.
Shemsu is diminutive yet dynamic on the field. He’s as interesting and creative on the field as he is off it.
His father moved from Ethiopia to the United States before Shemsu was born, thanks to winning an immigration lottery. Shemsu’s older brother, Abdi, was 4 at the time of the move.
Abdi also played soccer for the Hillies. It was Abdi’s accomplishments off the field, however, that meant the most; big brother recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics.
“I finally understood what it meant to make my family proud,” said Shemsu, who has not decided if he will play soccer in college next year.
Shemsu isn’t the only member of the Hillies with international ties. Montoya moved to the United States from his native Spain at age 14, settling in as a player at Newton North High School.
He went on to Boston College, where he played all four years and was a senior captain.
After college, Montoya played seven seasons of professional soccer, captaining the Boston Bolts as well as playing for various indoor teams in the Midwest. “You just kind of have to find your way,” Montoya said of the grind of professional life.
The coach doubles as a Spanish teacher at Belmont Hill.
Costa Rica connection
Montoya’s Spanish lessons came in handy in August, when the Hillies took a preseason trip to Costa Rica to play against four U17 professional teams in their home stadiums. The team traveled to the cities of San Jose, San Carlos, and Liberia, winning three games and tying one.
Outside of whitewater rafting and ziplining, Goncalves and Shemsu said they enjoyed their visit to a school for underprivileged youth.
The players donated school supplies and played soccer with the children.
“That was a real bonding moment for us to see what privilege we really have,” Goncalves said.
Most, if not all of the Hillies, play club soccer in the offseason. A large contingent plays with Valeo FC, part of the US Soccer Development Academy network.
In addition to Shemsu, the Valeo/Belmont Hill crossover list is large: Junior midfielder Mateen Nickpour-Reyes of Brookline, Newton-based juniors Matthew Britt-Webb (defender), Riley Shafer (defender), and Alex Atall (goalie), as well as senior forward Charles Penzone (Lexington).
No wonder the Hillies have such great chemistry.
“We kind of all know each other from the club,” Shemsu said.