Devils eye repeat trip to playoffs
GYPSUM ” They’re talking playoffs in Eagle Valley, and that bunch isn’t just the football team.
Eagle Valley soccer is making its way out of the shadows, not only in Gypsum but in 4A Slope soccer circles.
The Devils went 7-8-1 last year. A 16-game season was significant because 2006 marked the first year the Devils made the 4A state playoffs. The one tie was especially memorable because it was the Devils’ breakout performance ” coming back from 3-0 to draw with perennial Slope power Steamboat Springs. The Devils showed it was no fluke bouncing those same Sailors in the rematch.
And so with that in mind, there are serious expectations when it comes to Devils soccer.
“We’re not an easy win on anybody’s schedule anymore. Making the playoffs proved that,” senior defender James McGoodwin said. “And I don’t want us to be one of those teams that has one good year and the just becomes average again.”
That’s not the usual talk coming out of the Devils during the preseason, and that’s a sign of the changing times.
“I expect the same performance out of them or better,” first-year coach Jason Rittmiller said. “They had a great season last year, but I don’t expect anything to be any less because we’re stepping up.”
One big reason Eagle Valley has high hopes going into Friday’s opener at Middle Park at 1 p.m. is that Cesar Castillo, who set the school’s single-season scoring record and led the Slope in goals, is back as a junior. The sound you heard was the seven other coaches in the Slope figuring out how to defend him.
Opposing teams will doubtless mark him or double-team him this year, but the Devils have plans for that.
“I want him to draw attention away from the ball and pass it,” Rittmiller said. “We’ve got some very talented players at forward and midfield who are going to see the ball. He’ll pull (defenders) away. He’s also going to be able to run in and make that strike, too, because he’s fast.”
That would be a cue for fellow striker Fidel Macias along with midfielders Adrian Aguilar, Jorge Valenzuela, David Shay and Gonzalo Gomez.
Castillo’s done a lot of work during the offseason and has confidence in his teammates to make this work.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s great to have the chance to play with these guys again. It’s a good group. I think I’ve got more help this year than I did last year. I know I’ve gotten better than last year, so we should be all right.”
The defense is led by returning goalie Trevor Grayson. The Devils are staying in their “four flat” formation with Steve White, McGoodwin, Sage Smith and Israel Gomez along the back.
Rittmiller can also call on Abraham Fernandez, Chad Strakbein, Eleazar Saucedo, Victor Varela and Eddie Leiva off the bench.
“I’ve got a rock-sold group of big guys who are physical, strong and know the game,” Rittmiller said. “I feel really confident in having a really strong defense. And I can go a few guys deep without having to worry about how strong my defense is.”
Climbing the Slope
The schedule lays out nicely for the Devils. They have two 3A opponents to start the year with Middle Park Friday and Coal Ridge Thursday. Eagle Valley opens the Slope at Palisade, a manageable game, before a road contest at Steamboat and hosting defending league champion, Battle Mountain.
The first three games should give the Devils time to acclimate to their new coach and players before playing the meat of the league.
Another interesting note is that after playing the first five of six games on the road, the Devils are home for six-straight league games. Eagle Valley needs to take advantage of this stretch if they not only want to make the playoffs, but more importantly, move up in the Western Slope.
Though making the playoffs last year was a huge step, Eagle Valley qualified as the fifth and final seed out of the Western Slope region. The region has has five sports, but only the top-three teams out of the Slope are guaranteed state spots. That’s because Montrose and Montezuma-Cortez are added to the equation come bracket time.
Montrose is a playoff regular, and Eagle-Valley just eked past Cortez for the final spot on the last day of the season. As the area’s fifth seed, the Devils drew No. 3 Mullen and understandably had a quick appearance ” a 6-0 loss ” in the state playoffs.
To draw a better state seed, Eagle Valley not only has to take care of the lower half of the league, but start making inroads on a consistent basis against the likes of Battle Mountain, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat.
The Devils, based on their success against the Sailors last year, feel confident about making that step.
“It’s a big deal because we beat (Steamboat),” Castillo said. “It’s huge. It gives a lot of these younger kids a lot of confidence in the level of soccer we’re playing at. I’m pretty sure we’ll make the playoffs.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.