Peoria Notre Dame soccer team would not settle for 2nd place


After last season ended with a heartbreaking overtime loss in the Super-sectional, just seconds away from a state finals appearance, Peoria Notre Dame soccer coach Mike Bare had a meeting with his players.

He thanked the three seniors for their hard work and dedication and said he was sorry their careers had to end on such a sad note. Then he dismissed the seniors from the room and talked to all the players who would return for the 2008 season.

It was at that moment, more than a year ago, when the possibility of a state championship entered the minds of Bare and his 11 returning seniors.

“We talked about our expectations, and we set the goal. We didn’t just want to get there. We wanted to win it all,” he said. “We knew we had a lot of talented players coming back, and that’s what we set our sights on.”

The goal was achieved Saturday when the Irish defeated Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, 3-0, to win the Class 2A state championship. It was the first title for the school since 2004, and the first ever trip to the state tournament for this group of seniors.

“I’m so proud of every one of these kids,” Bare said. “And, this is not just for them. It’s for everyone who ever played here and didn’t get this far.”

Senior Brogan O’Brien, who scored one of the goals in the championship game, said all of the seniors were driven to win it all after not making it to State the previous four years.

“We’re a close group,” he said. “This team means a lot to us. We would have been very disappointed if we didn’t win it all.”

Senior defender Matt Barkley said a “huge weight” was lifted off the players’ shoulders after the Super-sectional win Nov. 4. Senior Dominic Bonello said the “curse was broken” after that game.

“After the Super-sectional, we thought, ‘we’re here (in the state finals), we might as well win it all.’ We played two great games to get it done,” Barkley said.

The Irish beat Westchester St. Joseph, 6-2, in the semi-final Friday.

Bare said the brutal schedule that the Irish played at the beginning of the season helped them in their quest for a state title.

In early September, the Irish lost two close games to Chaminade College Prep and  Christian Brothers College High School, two nationally-ranked St. Louis area schools.

“We played on turf fields, which gave us a good feel for the speed of the field we would play on at State,” Bare said. “And, we played well against those teams. Knowing that we could compete with some of the best teams in the country really helped our confidence.”

Notre Dame would lose only one more game (on penalty kicks to St. Viator Oct. 3).

The Irish handed Richwoods their only three losses of the season (6-1, 7-0, and 4-0), and finished the season with shutouts in eight of their last nine games.

They won the Metamora Regional, the Peoria Notre Dame Sectional (1-0 over Morton) and the Morton Super-sectional (2-0 over Oswego).

“We beat some good teams along the way,” Bare said. “We set out to win, and we also wanted to make a statement and show that we were a State contender. Take a team like Richwoods. They are a very good team, but we were able to bet them, 7-0. That says a lot.”

Bare said everybody on the team is close with one another, and they played as a team.
“Everybody had his own responsibility. We didn’t have one superstar.”

Bare, who played for the Irish in the late 90s, said the state championship means more to him than any game he ever played.

“You develop such a strong bond with the players,” he said. “It’s rewarding for me to see them reach the highest level.”

• The public is invited to a rally for the team at 2 p.m. Friday at Notre Dame High School.