By Curtis Carden
Elizabethton only needed one strike of lightning to end an eventful season for the Unicoi County High School soccer team.
The Cyclones received their lone score from Dante Callahan early in the second half to record a 1-0 victory in the District 1-A/AA tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday, May 10, at Citizens Bank Stadium during a stormy evening in Carter County.
In a game where chances came at a premium, UCHS (9-7-1) was unable to capitalize at the right moments, according to head coach Justin Ciralsky.
“(Elizabethton) just wanted it more than us tonight, that’s all,” Ciralsky said. “We lacked heart. We had some chances and we missed them. We had a lack of focus that hurt us tonight.”
After carrying over a scoreless effort in the first half, Elizabethton struck first when Callahan split through a pair of defenders for the go-ahead score.
The Blue Devils had their opportunities in the second half, with shots from Juan Ponce, Sam Murillo and a pair of fast breaks from Jose Ortiz just sailing shy of pay dirt.
Thursday’s contest brought a state tournament atmosphere for the Blue Devils, who were in their first year back after the soccer program was reinstated in the summer by the school system. Blue Nation was out in full force, showing their support by cheering on the team, even sporting cutout signs.
While the outcome wasn’t ideal for the team, Ciralsky said he had nothing but praise for what the team accomplished this season.
“They had a great season,” he said of the team. “I’m ridiculously proud of them. It’s unheard of for a first-year team to come out with a nine-win season like they had. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys and their effort. But it’s like what I told the guys just now, they were too good to go out the way they did tonight, but that’s on us. We’ll take that back. We’ll work and we’ll go forward.
“We had a lot of good senior leadership this year. We’re definitely going to miss those seven guys, who were good for us. They’re going to be tough to replace, but I feel their guidance will be key for us next year.”
The Blue Devils earned upset victories this season by splitting the regular season series with Elizabethton and University High. UCHS finished fourth in the regular season and picked up their first postseason victory on Monday, May 9, against Happy Valley in a makeshift home contest at Milligan College.
Fans will see more of a hometown flare next season for both Lady Devil and Blue Devil soccer. Plans are in place to have a scoreboard and goals put in place at Bryant Field, the track field on the UCHS premise, and both teams will have home games during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.