By Keeli Parkey
With a season under their belts, the Blue Devils are ready to build on the success of 2016.
During its inaugural season the Unicoi County High School boys soccer team posted a record of 9-7-1, finished fourth in league play and advanced to the quarterfinals of the District 1-A/AA tournament.
“Now that we have a season under our belt, the boys have some experience and know what to expect,” head coach Justin Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “We also know what it will take to reach our goals.”
One benefit the 2017 team will have that last year’s squad did not is home field advantage, according to the head coach.
“One of the biggest obstacles we had last year was playing every game away,” Ciralsky said. “We are grateful to have seven home games this year and we are planning on putting on some great games for our home fans. Starting a program is difficult, but the school and community have surrounded us and helped us go forward.”
The Blue Devils will play their home games on the field of the UCHS track on Mohawk Drive in Erwin.
The preseason has seen the UCHS players working hard to improve on last season’s results.
“They have worked incredibly hard during the preseason,” Ciralsky said of his players “They were focused and dedicated to conditioning and that will help prepare us for a tough season ahead.”
A key factor in the Blue Devils’ success will be leadership from its senior members: RJ Phillips, Carlos Delgado, Christian Leon, Samuel Murillo, Jose Ortiz, Derek Andrade, Donnie Metcalf, Tyler Whitson and Gerardo Batrez.
“We have strong senior leadership this year,” Ciralsky said. “They have helped keep the team motivated and focused on our goal for the season. We want to win the conference and make it to the state tournament.”
“We expect strong play from senior keeper RJ Phillips, Christian Leon in the back, Sam Murillo in the midfield, and Jose Ortiz up top,” the head coach continued. “Honestly, we have a strong team and we are holding our expectations high for them.”
Conference games will be important for UCHS this season, Ciralsky said.
“We are looking forward to playing Elizabethton and (Sullivan) South this year,” he added. “Each of them beat us last season and we have worked hard to overcome our weaknesses of last season.”
The Blue Devils are scheduled to travel to Elizabethton on Thursday, March 23, and host Sullivan South on April 11.
The Blue Devil squad also includes: juniors Chris Andrade, Daniel Meza, Leroy Valdez, Jakob Carver; sophomores Juan Ramirez, Juan Ponce, Martin Porras, John Andrade, Demicio Rodriguez, Jordan Hensley; and freshman Armando Saldana.
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The Blue Devils took on Union High School from Virginia on Monday, March 20 in Erwin. The Blue Devils got on the scoreboard early in the game and took a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal by Ortiz into the second half.
Ortiz scored again for the Blue Devils in the second half. Union also got on the scoreboard, but the Blue Devils kept them in check from there. UCHS won the game 2-1.
UCHS is scheduled to participate in a tournament at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport in the Jon Metcalf Highland Cup on Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25.
The Blue Devils will open tournament play on Friday against Sullivan Central at 6 p.m. With a win, they will play in the semifinals at 10 a.m. on Saturday against the winner of the Morristown West/Tennessee High match; a loss will send the Blue Devils to a losers’ bracket game at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The Blue Devils are also scheduled to face University High in Johnson City at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 30.