Skilled Eagle Valley squad eyes league title |

Skilled Eagle Valley squad eyes league title

Ian Smith
Vail, CO Colorado
Daily file photoEagle Valley's Cesar Castillo corrals the ball during a game last season. The Devils open their 2008 season on Thursday at home against Middle Park at 4 p.m.

GYPSUM, Colorado ” The Eagle Valley soccer team is loaded with talent, but now comes the hard part. Coach Jason Rittmiller must mold all the individual pieces into a team.

If Rittmiller can accomplish that, the Devils could be punching their third-straight ticket to the state playoffs. Eagle Valley opens its 2008 campaign on Thursday at home against Middle Park at 4 p.m.

“What we have is a lot of talent,” Eagle Valley coach Jason Rittmiller said. “But our biggest difficulty at the start of last year, and a little bit this year is, we have all these individual talents and they like to show off. Playing as a team is the biggest genuine issue. That’s going to be our biggest deal to start. Not so much building talent, but playing together.”

One of the wunderkind athletes who dot the Eagle Valley roster is Cesar Castillo. The senior’s resume includes two Western Slope League scoring titles. Castillo is already the all-time leading scorer in Devils soccer history.

Teams tried their best to slow Castillo down last season by putting multiple defenders on him. Eagle Valley hopes to counter that plan this year.

“There is always going to be someone open,” Castillo said. “We are kind of changing our game plan this year. Everyone is going to have options.”

Castillo isn’t the only Eagle Valley player with a laundry list of skills. Gonzalo Gomez ” an all-league selection last year ” is slated to play center-midfield for the Devils this season.

David Shea and Marco Escobar are also big parts of the Eagle Valley squad. Shea flashed his talents last year with a hat trick against Moffat County. Escobar joins the Devils after suiting up for rival Battle Mountain last season.

“Marco Escobar is going to be a big asset for us this year,” Rittmiller said. “I’m excited to see what he can do.”

The key for the Devils is turning all of its weapons into a cohesive team. The players are learning each others skills in practice, hoping it translate into goals during games.

“I spend a lot of time on those guys playing together, figuring out plays,” Rittmiller said. “There is going to be a lot more passing this year. We are going to be using the field differently.”

Goal keeper Trevor Grayson will anchor the defense. Grayson made a habit of making game-saving plays last season.

Race is wide open

In recent seasons, it’s a safe bet to write Battle Mountain’s name atop the Western Slope standings in pen. While that still may be the case this season, the Devils will have their say.

Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain and Steamboat Springs figure to battle for conference supremacy. The Huskies have won the title the past four years.

“It’s going to be an exciting season,” Rittmiller said. “I know for sure our game between us and Battle Mountain, or us and Steamboat, is going to be a heck of a game to watch. There are a lot of talented players (in the league). This year is going to be really exciting.”

To accomplish their title aspirations, the Devils need to avoid another slow start. Last season, Eagle Valley was forced to forfeit its first three games, putting them in a huge hole. It didn’t take long for the Devils to rebound. They finished 6-0-2 down the stretch to make the playoffs for the second-consecutive season.

Painful memories

There is still a bitter taste lingering from last year’s Class 4A playoff opener for Eagle Valley. The Devils fell to Montrose 1-0 to end their season. The loss hurt, but the way it happened stung even more.

Montrose packed in its defense and sat on a 1-0 lead for the much of the game. Not only that, some frustrating subbing tactics were employed by Montrose to drain the clock.

“That was just a shot to the groin,” Rittmiller said. “We knew we could have done better. At the beginning of the game, we had some nice runs that scared them. Then they had a quick run, and they happened to get one in. Then they shut down and held on to the goal.”

Castillo hopes the team can avenge the loss with a third-straight trip to the playoffs this season.

“We’ve been working hard,” he said. “Everyone’s been playing and working hard. I don’t see (making the playoffs) being a problem this year.”

Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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