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Soccer program gets 1st victory

Blue Devil Daniel Meza fights for possession of the ball against a University High Jr. Buccaneer during his team’s 5-2 victory last week. Meza scored a goal during the first half of play. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)
Blue Devil Daniel Meza fights for possession of the ball against a University High Jr. Buccaneer during his team’s 5-2 victory last week. Meza scored a goal during the first half of play. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

Blue Nation’s soccer squad has let other teams know they are here to stay.

Behind a hat trick from Jose Ortiz, Unicoi County High School capped off a successful week on the fields in northeast Tennessee with a 5-2 upset over University High Thursday, March 31, at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

The Blue Devils began their week with the school’s first soccer win since the boys and girls teams were reinstated this season in a 12-0 shutout against first-year program Hampton on Monday, March 28.

Along with the two wins, the Blue Devils (4-2, 2-2) fit in a nonconference contest with David Crockett. With a junior varsity squad taking the field in Washington County, the Blue Devils came up just shy of the victory, 3-2, on Tuesday, March 29.

But the hard work was put on display Thursday with UCHS jumping out early in the first half with a 2-0 lead after back-to-back goals from Ortiz.

“There in the first half, we were able to score a couple,” Blue Devil head coach Justin Ciralsky said. “Offensively, we were able to put it together. It was a great game and a great win.”

However, University High would not go away, taking advantage of mental mistakes from the Blue Devils to knot things up at 2-2 midway through the first half.

“We made a few silly mistakes of stabbing and diving in and that gave them a few easy chances and they finished them very well,” Ciralsky said, “but at halftime, we had a little talk about not diving in, keeping our shape and our guys did that very well in the second half.”

Both teams jockeyed for momentum heading into intermission, but it was UCHS that received the spark, thanks to Daniel Meza’s attack down the middle that concluded with the ball sailing just by the goalie’s head. The end result saw UCHS hold the 3-2 lead going into the second half.

It was Ortiz who continued the surge, scoring his third goal inside the 45th minute to prop his team up 4-2. Juan Ponce scored the Blue Devils’ final goal in the second half.

While securing three goals in the game, Ortiz shared the wealth of praise with the rest of his teammates.

“We were just trying to create as many chances as we could,” he said. “We scored first in the first 10 minutes and that really helped with our confidence for the rest of the game.”

The defense played its role to a tee in the second half, Ciralsky said. Eddie Martinez stayed active at his goalie spot and eliminated eight shots on goal in the second half and received help from his back line, which includes Luis Reynoso. Reynoso, was behind a stalwart charge in the back that helped keep University High out of the box and limited any easy goal attempts.

“We started really nervous as a team, nobody had confidence in themselves,” Reynoso said about the growth of the team, from day one to Thursday. “But now, as the games go on, we’re all starting to trust each other and see each other more as a team and as a family.”

Reynoso has a message for the upcoming slate of opponents for UCHS.

“The other teams better be ready,” he said. “We’re coming in hot and giving it everything we got.”

• • •

UCHS opened the week at Chuckey-Doak, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. The squad ends this week’s stretch of games in Carter County at Happy Valley on Thursday, April 7, at 6 p.m.

The road doesn’t get easier, Ciralsky said, but added that Thursday’s victory was an important building block for the team.

“It is very helpful,” he said. “The next couple of weeks, we have a few conference games. We start next week with Chuckey-Doak and that’s a team we could face in regionals. We’re going to enjoy tonight, this was a very big win for us, on the field and mentally.”