Victor Chirica has been a soccer coach who always shoots straight about the abilities of his team.
So when he gave this year’s team a stamp of approval, it’s worth taking notice.
“This is the year when they have the best chance to get to the state tournament,” said Chirica. “They have the experience, the technique and the tactical form. They have everything.
“They just need to believe in themselves. They can do it. They just need to come to practice and make sure they are fit.”
The Junior Bucs are expected to battle Greeneville and Elizabethton for the Class A-AA Three Rivers/Blue Ridge Conference title.
As for Class AAA teams, Daniel Boone appears to be on the upswing while David Crockett is rebuilding.
Here’s a look at UH, Elizabethton, Boone and Crockett’s teams for 2013:
The Junior Bucs are seasoned in the back with senior defender Nick Fabus and Benjamin Page, who is the team’s goalkeeper. Junior Jonathan Burke is another key defender.
In the midfield, Chirica said he will rely on seniors Connor Williams and Kevin Mast. Also helping stabilize the middle is junior Noah Jones.
Up front, Chirica should get plenty of offense from Lowell Williams, Dominic Avento and Westley Ongtengco. All of those players are juniors.
UH graduated just one player, and the Junior Bucs rolled through the preseason without a loss. After a forfeit victory, UH opened the regular season with a 13-1 pounding of David Crockett.
“Our whole team is back, plus we’ve got a new guy who just came on the team and he’s pretty good,” said Chirica, who will be assisted again this season by former David Crockett coach Tony Snapp. “It’s basically the same team, so we do have a lot of experience. They have grown up together for about three years now.”
An 0-2-1 start includes an “upset” tie with Cosby, but Cyclones’ head coach Bill McClay said his team still has potential.
“I’d say right off the bat we have to prove ourselves against UH and Greeneville,” said McClay. “By the end of the year, I hope we’ve found an identity. We’ve knocked the ball around pretty well so far.
“We’ve looked very good for two halves. The problem is it was half of one game and half of another.”
Senior Bobby Holt anchors the defense while senior Luke Broyles will likely earn goalkeeper duties over senior Darrian Simerly, who will play in the midfield when not in goal.
Freshman Daniel Bolagnese is another key defender.
Joining Simerly in the midfield will be senior Nathan LaPorte, sophomore Isaac Fife, and freshman Teve Mushayamunda.
In the front, McClay said he will count on scoring from freshman Pedro Teixeira.
Also helping out are seniors Coby Atwell and Tasa Mushayamunda.
“We’ve created opportunities, but we’ve got to make the most of our chances,” said McClay.
With a 4-1-1 record that includes a 1-1-1 slate in the Big Eight Conference, the Trailblazers are off to a positive start.
“We thought we would probably have the best team on the field we’ve ever had, so we’re not surprised at the quick start,” said head coach Steve Sessis. “We’re pleased, and hope to stay solid throughout the year.”
With six games already under its belt, Boone has battled the elements.
“Anybody who has played to this point has played in miserable conditions,” said Sessis.
The defense is led by Jacob Wrigley, a junior sweeper.
“He’s the linchpin of the defense,” said Sessis.
Wrigley is complemented by junior fullback Joshua Ignace.
Leading the way in the midfield is junior Curt Halland while senior Adam Edwards is the key man up front.
“The scoring has actually been spread out,” said Sessis. “One thing that makes us successful is multiple scoring threats.”
Also in the mix for Boone are junior Matt Poole and sophomore Uriel Tovar.
The Pioneers are off to a bit of a rough start at 1-5, but that can happen when there is high roster turnover.
“We’re definitely in a rebuilding year,” said head coach Dean Hogan. “We lost several starters to graduation and injury and other things. We really only return two starters.
“We do have some younger guys who show a great deal of promise. I hope we get a few more in the next year and start being more competitive and holding our own a little more.”
Center defender Nathan Kincheloe is one of the key players for the Pioneers.
“He’s definitely an on-the field leader,” said Hogan. “He never gives up and is a strong player for us.”
In the midfield, freshman Dylan Vaughn leads the way. And up front, freshman Matt Carmack has been giving Hogan some good minutes.
Also in the mix for Crockett are sophomore defender Seth Lewis, and sophomore goalkeeper Trevor Henley.
“Seth’s work ethic and work rate have helped the team a lot,” said Hogan. “And Henley has made tremendous improvement over last year.”