Bobcats finish championship season in second round of playoffs

Blue Ridge Early College varsity soccer team wrapped up their season after a loss to Bishop McGuiness in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s state playoffs on Nov. 3.

The Bobcats hosted Swain County in round 1 of the playoffs and fought for a hard-earned 2-1 victory. In addition to a second-round playoff run, BREC tied Highlands for first place in conference with a 12-1-1 record, 13-4-1 overall.

BREC Bobcats celebrate their first round playoff win against Swani.

BREC Coach Nick Pressler said it was a team effort, with everyone playing unselfish and disciplined soccer.

“If I am being honest, this team is one of my favorites of all time,” he said. “Not because of their success, but because of the way they came together and worked toward a common goal. I coach because I love the game and love these kids. This group made it very easy for me to do both.”

Pressler said they had several goal scorers this season (not just 2-3) who accumulated 68 total goals. The Bobcat defense and goalkeeper only allowed 5 goals in conference play and recorded 9 shutouts in 14 games.

BREC Isaiah Palestino blocks a Swain shot that was headed into the back of the net.

“I don’t measure this program’s success by wins and losses,” said Pressler. “I measure it by the number of productive young men that leave this program and go on to do bigger and better things. Soccer is temporary. The life lessons and the memories made as a BREC Bobcat soccer player are forever.”

BREC Levi Walters moves in to steal the ball from a Swain player.

BREC loses seniors Junior Diaz and Ashtin Zachary, but Pressler said they have several new players joining the team next year and the future for the Bobcats is looking good.

BREC Senior Junior Diaz and his family on Senior Night. Photo by Ingra Moss

BREC Senior Ashtin Zachary and family on Senior night. Photo by Ingra Moss

Several BREC players were recognized for their performance throughout the season, including Smoky Mountain Conference Player of the Year Gustavo Garcia, and All-Stars (and brothers) Junior Diaz and Jeysson Diaz.

BREC Junior Diaz celebrates after scoring on a PK against Swain.

BREC Jeysson Diaz maintains control of the ball under pressure from Swain.

BREC Goalie Gustavo Garcia slides to make a stop against Swain.

Pressler was recognized as SMC Coach of the Year, along with Highlands Coach Caleb Brown.

BREC Coach Nick Pressler earned SMC Coach of the Year and is pictured second from the left celebrating with the team after a first round playoff win over Swain.

The Bobcats had several big wins throughout their championship season. One game that was rather climactic was when BREC hosted Cherokee in early September 2022.

BREC Eric Puskarich works for position to control the ball against Cherokee.

Cherokee was up 1-0 throughout the majority of the game with BREC firing shot after shot on goal without success. With the game on the line during the final quarter, BREC Jeysson Diaz puts a shot into the back of Cherokee’s net tying the game and sending it to overtime.

BREC Miguel Julian keeps the ball moving downfield with a header.

Within the first minute of OT, Diaz scored again. The Bobcats maintain this lead throughout OT until the last seconds when BREC scored one final time sealing the win.

BREC Junior Diaz jumps on Braulio Loma after Loma scored a goal against Swain.

BREC Ethan Henson sends the ball up to the Bobcat offense against Cherokee.

BREC Manny Magana on a fast break against Swain.

BREC Markus Alcantar sends the ball up to the Bobcat offense against Cherokee.

BREC Abraham Pineda moves in for a steal against Cherokee.

BREC Goalie Gustavo Garcia makes a stop against Cherokee.

BREC Ashtin Zachary juggles the ball against Cherokee.

BREC Levi Walters navigates a bit of a high kick from a Swain player.

BREC Jeysson Diaz celebrates after scoring the tying goal against Cherokee.

BREC Junior Diaz celebrates after his brother Jeysson scored the tying goal against Cherokee.

BREC Jeysson Diaz carries Bradley Norris after scoring after Norris scored in the final seconds against Cherokee in overtime.

BREC Eric Puskarich goes for a steal against Cherokee.

BREC Braulio Loma picks off a Cherokee pass.

BREC Ethan Henson drills the ball down the sideline.

BREC Gustavo Garcia makes a stop against Cherokee.

BREC Abraham Pineda stays with a tipped pass.

BREC Ashtin Zachary takes a shot on Cherokee’s goal with a header.

BREC Jeysson Diaz controls a pass before moving down the field.


From left are BREC Isaiah Palestino, Levi Walters, and Ethan Henson forming a wall seconds before a Cherokee PK.

BREC ballboy staying in character and focused during a game against Cherokee.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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