BOYS SOCCER: Richwoods vs. ND could go either way

Tom Batters

When Peoria Notre Dame soccer coach Mike Bare sees Dave Benavidez sprint up the middle of the field, he gets a little nervous.

Benavidez, a first-team all Mid-State 6 Conference selection who led the conference in scoring last year,  caused a lot of coaches to pace more anxiously on the sideline.

“He can put it in the net, anytime, anywhere,” Bare said. “As long as he is in the game, Richwoods has a shot to beat anybody.”

Richwoods stunned the Irish last year on the ND’s home field (one of only three losses for ND).

Benavidez scored the only goal.

Notre Dame won the rematch at Richwoods, 3-1, later in the season.

Bare said he expects the conference rivalry to be just as competitive this year.

“Richwoods will give us everything they’ve got. They always play hard,” Bare said. “And, they have a lot of talent. Benavidez is their big gun, but they have a lot of other weapons.”

The Irish lost just three seniors from last year’s team that won 20 games and came a few seconds away from advancing to State.

 The sting of that 2-1 overtime loss at home in the Supersectional is still there, Bare said, but this is not a bad thing.

“That game reminds us that we can never lose our intensity. We got too comfortable with a 1-0 lead, and it cost us. We relied too much on our back line, and we weren’t aggressive enough,” Bare said. “This year, we will need to put teams away once we get ahead. We never want to be in the position where one mistake can make all the difference in the game.”

Notre Dame led, 1-0, with 23 seconds left when Champaign Centennial scored. The Irish lost, 2-1, in overtime, ending their season.

ND returns 10 seniors, plus a strong group of underclassmen. Bare said this is one of the deepest teams in years, and the goal is simple: win a state championship.

“This group has never been to State (the Irish won the state championship in 2004, but haven’t been back to the state finals since). “This is their last shot,” Bare said. “I want them to go for it without any regrets.”

The Irish are loaded at every position.

The entire back line returns from last year. That line includes first team all-conference selections Ben Ralph, Dominic Bonello, and Matt Barkley.

Bare said he expects Bonello to take over the leadership role that Nick O’Neill had last year. O’Neill graduated and signed to play at Creighton University.

“We have a lot of senior leadership, but I’m looking at Dominic to be the vocal leader and the leader by example. He’s one of our best all-around players.”

Matt Gibbons, a first team all Mid-Illini Conference selection, transferred from Dunlap to Notre Dame. Bare said he will make a strong contribution on the back line also.

Midfielders Brogan O’Brien and Alex Crowley also return. Both were first team all-conference players as juniors last year.

Sophomore Vince Cicciarelli, who made the all-conference team as a freshman, also returns. Cicciarelli scored all of ND’s goals in the Sectional tournament last year.

“Vince put on some pounds and he grew a little,” Bare said. “He’ll get even better, which is exciting, because he was outstanding as a freshman.”

All-conference goalkeeper Joe Gamba graduated, but Bare said he has confidence in junior John Andresh to fill Gamba’s shoes.

“He’s very consistent, and he makes great reaction saves,” he said. “I was his club coach this summer. He came up big several times.”

Richwoods lost all-conference players Michael Waldo, Brendan Blunier and Matt JaJa, but the Knights have plenty of talent back in 2008.

Seniors Benavidez, Matt Abraham and Jamiahus Walton were all-conference players last year.

Richwoods lost, 5-1, to Dunlap in the Sectional semi-final last year.

“We have a great chance to go beyond where we went last year,” Abraham said. “We were all disappointed to lose that game. This year, we want to win the Sectional and see how far we can go after that.”

Abraham said he is looking forward to the games against Notre Dame (Sept. 18 at home and Oct. 14 at ND), and a regular season rematch against Dunlap (Oct. 4 at home).

“Notre Dame is always the team to beat, and we haven’t played Dunlap in the regular season in a few years, so we’ll be ready for that one,” he said.