REEDLEY – Head coach Eric Velarde’s vision for his Reedley High boys soccer team is clear and concise — play a rugged preseason schedule against top Central Section and intersectional schools the first month of the season to build momentum for league and Division I postseason play.
It’s a formula that’s worked pretty well so far as the Pirates have compiled a 9-4-1 record, with multiple wins against section schools and tough battles resulting in a close loss at unbeaten reigning section champion Clovis North and tie at regional rival Sanger High. The preseason trek capped off with victory on Jan. 5, as Reedley scored late in the second half to post a 1-0 victory over Central Valley High from Ceres on a chilly evening at Reedley Soccer Complex.
“We knew that they were a really good; we got to watch a little bit of their film and knew that they had really good players,” Velarde said of the Sac-Joaquin Section-based Hawks (12-6-1), who won 5-3 at Sanger High last month and had dropped a one-goal battle to the Pirates in a non-league match last season. “Getting the chance to play teams from all over the state is massive for us, because we get exposed to (new styles of play). There’s not a team in the section that plays the way they do.”
Reedley finally was able to break through in the 71st minute of the match, after both teams collected spectacular saves during shots on goal midway through the frame. Getting a crossing feed from Eduardo Vasquez, senior striker and leading scorer Jose Magallon converted with a rocket shot from straight out to break the scoreless draw.
The Pirates then weathered a pair of late offensive attacks, getting active play from goalkeeper Misael Duenas and generally controlling the midfield in the closing stages.
“When you come up against a team like this there seems to be quality all over the field,” Velarde said. “That’s the beauty of sport, you can compete and you can play and fight against them, and deny the chances as much as you can. With these types of players, you’re gonna suffer a little bit and we’re okay with that, knowing it’s part of playing.”
Velarde now hopes the tough preseason pays off in Tri-County Conference play, as the Pirates open with road matches at Selma (Wednesday, Jan. 10) and defending TCC champion Kerman (Friday, Jan. 12).
“Selma is always a tough, tough rivalry game, they have good guys and prepare their teams well, and the energy is always fantastic,” he said. “And Kerman, who won the conference and had a great team last year, did a fantastic job. So hopefully we can get started on the right foot.”
The coach feels that Reedley is ready for a strong conference run, especially after the recent four-match stretch that also featured a 3-2 home win over Fresno High (9-3-1) on Jan. 3. Magallon, Vasqiez and Esteban Baca collected goals for Reedley while Magallon added an assist.
“We thought that (it) was going to be a tough stretch of games,” Velarde said. “We were pleased, not only with the results but the performance, even in the one we lost (at Clovis North). I thought we did a really good job and deserved to at least get a tie, but it’s just the way soccer is.”
He added, “I think we have a team where everyone’s ready and gearing up to go. We think we really are a top team in the section, and that’s the fantastic part of it.”