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Blue Devil soccer team ready to build on last season’s success

The 2018 Blue Devil soccer team includes, pictured from left, back row, Jordan Hensley, John Andrade, Christian Tipton, Juan Ponce, Daniel Meza, Juan Ramirez, Chris Andrade, Leroy Valdez, Jacob Carver, Kevin Alvarado, Martin Porras, Jose Reynoso and head coach Justin Ciralsky; front row, Demecio Rodriguez, Lupe Sandoval, Diego Cruz, Daniel Raygosa, Javier Castellon, Thomas Byrd, Miguel Vasquez, Eloy Garcia, Jose Ramirez, Matt Hensley and Armando Saldana. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2017 season was a very successful one for the Unicoi County High School boys soccer team. In just the program’s second year in existence the Blue Devils posted an overall record of 12-7-1, won the district tournament, took second place in the region tournament and advanced to the sectional round of postseason play.

Head coach Justin Ciralsky said he expects the success to continue for his squad in 2018.

“Our goal is to build on the skills and attitudes that got us there,” Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “We have some younger players with great potential, so our goal is to help develop them as young men and players in hopes that it brings out that potential. We are getting more guys interested in the sport because of last year’s success, so we are hoping to grow the program and hopefully even start a middle school program to help make them even better by high school.”

In preparation for their 2018 run, the Blue Devils’ preseason work has been focused on getting in shape.

“We have been conditioning, conditioning, conditioning,” Ciralsky said. “We want to be the team that can out work every other team we play. We want to play quick and fast, so in order to do that we have to be in excellent shape. Once we were allowed to practice we have been focusing heavily on our first touch. Sadly with all the rain, practicing has been tough, but we are hoping to put all the work together and have another successful season.”

The Unicoi County Football Club (UCFC) brings a wealth of experience to the field, according to the head coach.

“Our strengths are that we have a strong midfield and front line,” Ciralsky said. “We are hoping to build off the strong leadership of the juniors and seniors. As far as expectations, I expect them to give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. Our goal is to keep moving forward as we learn how to best play the game with each other. We have some returning players playing in new positions, plus some new players, so we are trying to figure out how to play the best together. Our goal is to get to the district championship game.”

Several players are expected to help the Blue Devils put the ball in the net this season.

“We are relying heavily on our midfield for leadership,” Ciralsky said. “Juan Ponce, Daniel Meza, and Chris Andrade. Then up top we have four players who have been playing well, and we hope they continue to improve throughout the season – Leroy Valdez, Martin Porras, Jakob Carver, and Armando Saldana.”

Other players are also expected to provide important contributions on the defensive side of the ball.

“Juan Ramirez, John Andrade, and Demecio Rodriguez are all returning players who we expect to have a great season,” Ciralsky said. “We will be using them to help Miguel Vasquez learn to play in the back as well. In the goal we have Jordan Hensley and Jose Reynoso trying to keep the ball out of our net.”

Rounding out the Blue Devil squad this season are: Diego Cruz, Matt Hensley, Thomas Byrd, Lupe Sandoval, Daniel Raygosa, Javier Castellon, Jose Ramirez, Kevin Alvarado, Eloy Garcia and Christian Tipton.

Serving as an assistant coach again this season is Victor Chirica.

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The Blue Devils opened the season on Thursday, March 15, with a 5-0 loss to Morristown East in Erwin.

“We started the game slow and lethargic,” Ciralsky said. “Morristown East took advantage of that and other missed opportunities and got up 2-0 quickly. We missed a few good chances and got defeated after they scored another couple goals. The second half was better, as we made some substitutions, and held them scoreless in the second half.”

The Blue Devils hosted West Greene on Monday, March 19, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to play in a weekend tournament at Dobyns-Bennett on Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24. They will face West Greene on the road on Tuesday, March 27, at 6 p.m. and host Cocke County on Thursday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m.

Conference opponents for UCHS this season are Elizabethton, Greeneville, Sullivan Central, Sullivan South and Volunteer. The Blue Devils will have several weeks of non-conference action before opening league play at Volunteer on April 10.

“Our last seven games will be extremely important as they are our conference games,” Ciralsky said. “Playing Elizabethton has always been a great game, and we are looking forward to playing them again.”

UCHS is scheduled to play at Elizabethton on May 1.

To repeat – and even improve on – the success of last season the Blue Devils have to be committed day-in and day-out, Ciralsky said.

“I don’t think you can replace the leadership and talent that we lost last year,” he added. “But our hope is to build off their leadership and experience and continue to teach the younger players to play UCFC soccer. Throughout the preseason we have been teaching them our ‘Stand As One’ concept, and now we are tirelessly training to improve their technical and tactical game.

“We have to continue working hard – on the field, during practice and off the field. Our goal is to work harder than any team we play. We will take the strengths of the past two seasons and continue building on them.”