Eagle Valley ready for Rock Canyon | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley ready for Rock Canyon

SPT Cesar Castillo 2 DT 10-21-08

EDWARDS ” Eagle Valley kept its workout light in activity and mood on Tuesday in Edwards.

Cesar Castillo worked on his impressive juggling skills. Steve White and Luis Corral played keep-a-way from Trevor Grayson. Coach Jason Rittmiller soaked in every second of the postcard-perfect afternoon.

After all, the Devils have plenty of reason to smile. Eagle Valley is playing its best soccer of the season at just the right time.

“It’s two things. One, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Rittmiller said. “Every game, (the players) are giving everything they got because they know a loss means their season is over. I think the Mullen coach (Sean Keefe) is right. We are peaking right now.”

The Devils are hoping to add one more historic feat to its 2008 resume when they meet No. 1 seed Rock Canyon in the quarterfinals of the 4A playoffs today at 5 p.m. at Shea Stadium in Littleton.

Even before today’s matchup, Eagle Valley (14-2-1) owns a long list of accomplishments this season. The Devils won their first Slope title, and advanced into the quarterfinals for the first time in 4A.

“It’s incredible,” White said. “It’s almost mind-blowing. Coming into high school soccer, I really didn’t understand the thrill of making it this far in state. It’s big.”

Jaguars’ dramatic rise

Rock Canyon is a Cinderella Story in its own right. This is only the fourth season of varsity soccer for the school. In its first season, only five kids went out for the team. Two years ago, the Jaguars went 1-14 in their first year in the Continental League.

Things have been looking up since. Now, only two years removed from that 1-14 season, the Jaguars enter today’s game with a 14-0-3 record and the No. 1 seed in 4A.

“(The 1-14 season) is drive within them,” Rock Canyon coach Sean Henning said. “It’s been a constant momentum builder. From the first part of last season, we got the momentum going.”

Superstar forwards

Castillo won’t be the only superstar forward on the pitch today. Rock Canyon features a Castillo-like talent of its own. Alex Tarnoczi leads the Jaguars with 29 goals this season, and was recently named co-Continental League Player of the Year.

“Alex is a very good player,” Henning said. “An outstanding player. He’s one of those players you can get the ball to and he’ll create on his own, or make that right pass to someone who’s open. He improves everyone on the team.”

Sounds a lot like Castillo, doesn’t it? The Eagle Valley senior is the proud owner of 41 goals this season, and 104 for his career.

Realistically, though, it will be the other 20 guys on the field that decide Wednesday’s game. Nick Croley ” a second team all-state selection last year ” is second on Rock Canyon with nine goals. Midfielder Gustavo Hildalgo has racked up an impressive 15 assists this year for the Jaguars.

“To be honest, I think they look a lot like us,” said Rittmiller, who got a first-hand look at Rock Canyon last Saturday. “They’re strong. They have one forward that most everything goes through. They have a couple of strong mid-fielders.”

Eagle Valley counters with the likes David Shea and Marco Escobar. Each has played a key role in the Devils’ success. Shea was Eagle Valley’s second-leading goal scorer in the regular season. Escobar and Castillo are tied for the team lead in goals (two) in the postseason

“It’s really nice to have those other guys,” Rittmiller said. “David and Marco are doing a good job. Kevin and Nester (Escobar) are getting goals. Eddie Campos does a lot of good work for us. Fidel (Macias) is looking for the goal.”

Don’t forget defense

Eagle Valley teachers, please forgive White if he is bouncing off the walls at school today. The Devils will sit in class until 12:30 p.m. before boarding the bus for Littleton.

“I know I’m going to get so many questions,” White said. “‘Are you ready? Are you ready?’ My first hour is chemistry, and that is going to take forever.”

Maybe White is anxious because he knows it will be his and the rest of the defenses’ job to shut down Tarnoczi. It will help to have Grayson in goal for the Devils. In Eagle Valley’s 2-1 win over Mullen, Grayson made a game-saving play to help preserve the victory.

“Our defense was strong (against Mullen),” Rittmiller said. “They looked really good, but when (Mullen) had something that went through, Trevor was just amazing.”

The Jaguars also feature a stingy defense and solid goalkeeping. Henning is in the unusual situation of having two stellar goalies. Chris Scanlan and Jacob Lissek switched off games this year for Rock Canyon. Both did well enough to earn second team all-league accolades.

The duo paired up with the Jaguars’ strong defensive backs to limit the opposition to 12 goals in 17 games.

“I don’t think there is a better defensive line in the state at any level,” Henning said.

Not ready yet

Eagle Valley made one thing clear Tuesday. The Devils aren’t ready for their season to end. The confident bunch has every intention of going to Littleton and upsetting Rock Canyon.

“Yeah, we are the underdogs if you look at the ratings,” Rittmiller said. “But, I honestly think we have an excellent chance against them.”

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or ismith@vaildaily.com.

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