Hipps Is Central To Devils' Success
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 7, 2014, 17:00
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — It's hard not to notice the impact midfielder Zack Hipps has on the pitch during every match for the Blue Devils. The senior has all the tools and abilities one looks for in a captain as he leads his team with his work on both defense and offense. He barks out orders from the midfield and helps control the team as a coach on the field as he makes adjustments based on what he sees from the opposition.
The game seems to come so fluidly for him that it would be easy to come to the conclusion he was destined for the pitch. Yet, that was not the case as the Hopewell midfielder was pushed toward the baseball diamond at an early age. While baseball is America's past time, it was the length of time it took to play the game and the lack of action which led to Hipps' disdain for the sport.
Instead, he immediately took to the sport of soccer where there are no stops to the game clock — it keeps rolling and even more time is added on due to injury stoppages — and fell in love. The pace and the aesthetic beauty of the play made it a perfect match over the more popular choice in baseball.
"When I was kid, my dad wanted me to try every sport and he really wanted me to play baseball, but I just never got into it," Hipps said before practice. "I thought it was too slow with the pace, so I guess that's why I like soccer. It's non-stop and always moving."
And it's exactly how Hipps plays on the field.
The senior is always moving as he tries to make the perfect diagonal pass or through-ball to set a teammate up in the final third. However, Hipps was not expected to be the one setting teammates earlier this season. In fact, Hipps was pegged to be one of the team's forwards with a nose for goal.
But some nagging injuries forced Hipps into the midfield where he has taken his game and leadership to another level. While the captain's armband is a giveaway for those who want to know who the leader of the Blue Devils is, his play also does the talking while shining a spotlight on his impact.
It's an area head coach Brad Dalton has seen the biggest difference from last year to this year.
"It's just night and day," Dalton said. "Last year, he was just part of the time and did his job, but he wasn't very vocal. This year, he's stepped right in and isn't afraid to come to if he feels we need to work on something ... If he sees something over the course of the game, he'll make the change on the field."
The changes he makes pay immediate dividends as well.
Just last week against Thomas Dale, Hipps started a three-touch passing sequence which resulted in a shot off the crossbar early in the game, sending shock waves through the stadium. Then, there are the times Hipps has tracked back on the defensive end to repossess the ball after a turnover in the final third.
But perhaps most impressive is Hipps' knowledge of when to attack or stay in a holding midfield role. And it's in the holding role where Hipps can be the key to an offensive attack with his one-touch passes freeing teammates to rush into the final third.
However, he's also proven dangerous offensively out of the midfield as he recognizes when the defense is asleep and makes a run while unmarked into the box. His play makes it difficult not to make the comparison between him and the one player he watches more than anyone else, United States National Team midfielder Michael Bradley.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
"I love watching the midfielders and how they move the ball around to make myself better which is why Bradley is such an inspiration," Hipps said. "I feel like that's what I'm best at. I loved playing striker, but I just moved into the center mid position and I feel like that's best for me and the team."
And the team needs Hipps' production after a rough start to the season which has only grown more difficult due to the season-ending injury to senior Juan Martinez and then an ankle injury to his replacement. Although, Hipps has been in this situation before.
He experienced the difficulties of playing through a tough schedule with the Hopewell football team which in turn allowed them to more battle-tested than their Conference 26 counterparts once the playoffs started. It's the same type of attitude he's instilling in his teammates from the captain position knowing that a confident group can lead to success down the road.
"I think everyone has the same goal of getting to the tournament and making noise once we're in there, but I just want to make memories," Hipps said. "It's my last year of playing competitive soccer likely ever, so I want to make it a memorable one."
Whether that memory will include the first-ever Conference 26 title remains to be seen, but what is known is Hipps will continue to lead the team from the midfield position while making the necessary adjustments to keep his team in the game.