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Soccer coach hopes UCHS program continues to grow

The 2018 UCHS Lady Devil soccer team includes, pictured from left, back row, head coach Bettina Chirica, Carly Kinsler, Katherine Altemose, Gisele Llamas, Juana Ponce, Isabelle Reynoso, Chelsea Kinil, Iliana Martinez-Lopez, Halie Hawkins, Kaylee Lamb and assistant coach Victor Chirica; front row, Spencer Garant, Zayra Andrade, Valeria Ponce, Maria Cedillo, Adilene Luquin, Leshli Lopez, Maria Cedillo and Rachel Altemose; not pictured, Lana Deshner, Clarita Ozuna and Bernice Luquin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

In its first three years in existence, the Unicoi County High School girls soccer team saw more success than the season before – and that tradition is on the verge of continuing in 2018.

“Overall we are starting to settle in as a program and become established,” head coach Bettina Chirica said. “Last year we won some important games, so this year we have to continue working hard and keep improving.”

The Lady Devils finished with a 4-10 record in 2017. Their season came to an end with a loss to Sullivan South in the first round of the District 1-AA tournament. Of their four wins last season, two are very memorable for their head coach.

“Two key games that stood out to me were when we beat (David) Crockett on their senior night and won against Sullivan South on our senior night,” Chirica said. “In the past, we lost to both Crockett and South – two strong teams. By winning those games it gave us confidence and made us feel like our hard work was finally paying off.”

Having more experienced players on the squad allowed Chirica to go beyond teaching the basics of the game to the team.

“This preseason we have been working on fitness and playing in small-sided games,” she said. “This year we dived right into game-like scenarios focusing on tactical play.”

There will be a key factor that will give the Lady Devils an edge this season, according to their head coach.

“Our strength will be team unity,” Chirica said. “Our girls connect with each other off the field and that resonates onto the pitch as well. They communicate well and find each other for passes. I expect the girls to show leadership in their community and in the school setting. Playing on the soccer team is a privilege, and they are held to a high standard on and off the field.”

Leading the charge for the Lady Devils will be senior goalie Carly Kinsler, senior midfielder Spencer Garant, senior forward Juana Ponce, sophomore Lana Deshner, senior Halie Hawkins, senior Andrea Lopez and junior Chelsea Kinil.

UCHS will compete in a conference against Sullivan South, Elizabethton, Sullivan Central, Greeneville and Volunteer in 2018. The season began on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at Elizabethton in a game that will not count in the league standings. They will travel to West Greene for a game on Thursday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m.

The Lady Devils will host Greeneville on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 6 p.m. in conference action. Being able to again play home matches is a blessing for Chirica and her squad.

“We are so thankful to have a home field to be able to play,” she said. “This year’s senior group of girls know the struggles and obstacles that were faced in the past of always having to travel. Because of the adversity from the past, it has made us appreciate what our community and school system have graciously provided for us. Although the concept of having a home field might seem trivial to some, for us it represents a place we can call our own, and we are very thankful for that.”

Also competing on the 2018 Lady Devil soccer team are: seniors – Clarita Ozuna and Katherine Altemose; juniors – Kaylee Lamb, Isabella Reynoso, Gisele Llamas, Zayra Andrade and Bernice Luquin; and sophomores – Leshli Lopez, Adilene Luquin, Maria Cedillo, Valeria Ponce, Rachel Altemose and Iliana Martinez-Lopez.

Victor Chirica will again serve as an assistant coach for the program.