Soccer rivals pay respect to former mentor


Spectators release balloons — 28 in all — during last Friday’s celebration of life ceremony for former Eastlake teacher and coach Robert Blas, who died unexpectedly earlier in the week. Photo by Jon Bigornia

The San Diego Section girls soccer playoffs are gearing up to start but the outcome of Monday’s Mesa League game between the front-running Eastlake Titans and host Bonita Vista Barons was not exactly crucial in the league standings.

Eastlake had already secured first place while Bonita Vista had second place wrapped up.

But Monday’s game – a 1-0 Bonita Vista victory — still held deep meaning for both teams.

The common denominator was playing for the memory of Robert Blas, a teacher/coach at Eastlake High School who had coached many of the players on both teams during middle school.

Blas died on Feb. 3. He had served as tournament director of the Bonita Vista Girls Soccer Tournament in recent years.

“Today was special and not just because it was a rivalry game against Eastlake,” BVHS head coach Kiko Medina said after both teams gathered after the match for a joint memorial to Blas. “It was special to remember a person who had an impact on both teams. Robert was a great guy, a huge friend, a funny guy. I was an honor to work with him.”

Students share their appreciation for former Eastlake High School teacher/coach Robert Blas during last Friday’s celebration of life ceremony on campus. Photo by Jon Bigornia

Eastlake had honored Blas with a special celebration of life ceremony after last Friday’s league game against visiting Montgomery. Following the game – a 4-0 Titan victory – spectators released balloons into the air.

Twenty-eight balloons made their way upward – one for each year of service Blas had provided the school, including 25 years as a staff member.

First-year Eastlake coach Candace Niboli spoke in similar terms about the iconic Blas.

“Coach Blas was a big part of the Eastlake community and the Chula Vista community,” she said. “It was nice to see the stands full. Many of the girls knew him and it was hard on them. It was nice to see them handle this together.”

Former Bonita Vista coach Ryan Marquez also was present at Monday’s game and spoke to the students and parents assembled.

“I knew Robert for 19 years,” Marquez said. “He tried to make Eastlake a better place. He tried to make Bonita Vista a better place. He tried to make the South Bay a better place. But it just wasn’t about two schools. We’re going to continue to make the South Bay a better place.”

Members of Blas’ family attended Monday’s game and expressed their gratitude to the parents, coaches and players from both schools for their support.

Eastlake’s Daniela Chavira (5) maneuvers on the field during last Friday’s Mesa League girls soccer game against visiting Montgomery. Photo by Jon Bigornia
Eastlake High School earned sole possession of first place in the 2019-20 Mesa League standings with a final 11-1 league record. Photo by Phillip Brents

Getting their kicks
Alyza Eckhart scored the lone goal of Monday’s match in the opening 10 minutes and goalkeepers Aaliyah Campbell (first half) and Sabrina Ibanez (second half) preserved the shutout victory.

Eckhardt, a junior, ranks among the team’s top scorers this season. The shutout was the team’s ninth in 17 games.

Bonita Vista’s Alyza Eckhart scored the game-winner in Monday’s rivalry game against visiting Eastlake. Photo by Phillip Brents

Eastlake (10-1 in league play, 17-5-1 overall) entered Monday’s game ranked third among Division I teams and could be ticketed for an appearance in the Open Division playoffs. The Titans trailed No. 1 Cathedral Catholic (19-2-3) and No. 2 Carlsbad (15-4-1) in the division power rankings.

“The girls on the team are very talented and the team has a lot of depth,” Niboli assessed of her squad’s strengths. “I want to build the program in the direction I want with these very talented players that have driven the program. Our big thing was just getting to know each other – some of the girls had played together before and some had not. We got them attacking as team.”

Despite the runner-up finish to Eastlake, Bonita Vista (8-3 in league) is having an otherwise fine season at 11-4-2 overall.

“Today was a rivalry game,” Medina said. “We wanted to make sure they didn’t go undefeated in league. They have an extremely strong program.”

Bonita Vista is vying for a berth in the Division II playoff field and is bidding for a home match in the first round.

Bonita Vista goalkeeper Sabrina Ibanez makes a diving save in the mud during Monday’s game. Photo by Phillip Brents

“We were around eighth or ninth in the power rankings and this win might push us up to No. 7,” Medina said. “The season has gone well. Our losses and ties were early in the season when we were still trying to find ourselves.”

Postseason play could provide some additional rewards.

“We’ve played No. 1-ranked Mater Dei Catholic (10-0 in South Bay League, 16-0-1 overall) and we tied them 1-1,” Medina said. “We feel we can compete with them. We feel we can match up with any team. It’s a whole different ball game (in the playoffs).”

Mater Dei Catholic defeated visiting Castle Park, 4-0, on Monday to move closer to clinching an undefeated season.

Eastlake defeated visiting Mar Vista, 4-0, on Wednesday to finish league play 11-1 and improve to 18-5-1 overall in advance of the section playoffs.




Mesa League
Eastlake 11-1-0, 18-5-1
Bonita Vista 8-3-1, 11-4-3
Otay Ranch 7-3-2, 10-5-3
Olympian 6-5-1, 9-10-1
Chula Vista 3-5-4, 7-11-5
Montgomery 1-8-3, 6-12-6
Mar Vista 0-11-1, 3-18-2

South Bay League
Mater Dei Catholic 10-0, 16-0-1
Hilltop 4-3-3, 7-8-5
Southwest 5-5-0, 9-6-1
San Ysidro 3-4-3, 11-8-4
Sweetwater 3-6-1, 9-9-2
Castle Park 0-7-3, 3-10-4



Photos by Phillip Brents

Bonita Vista’s Luna Beaulieu (10) challenges for the ball during Monday’s game.
Bonita Vista’s Alejandra Jaramillo (6) challenges for the ball during Monday’s game.
Bonita Vista’s Andrea King (3) drives past an Eastlake defender during Monday’s game.