'We're gonna miss those guys..'

Tom Batters
Dan Merriman, Dunlap

The annual Senior All-Star soccer game at Peoria Stadium is always a bittersweet night for coaches.

They get to watch their seniors play one last game in a more relaxed atmosphere, and it is fun for them to interact with their own players and those who have been rivals all season. But, the game is also a sad reminder that those seniors will never suit up for them again.

"Yeah, it is a little sad," said Dunlap coach Allan Hansen after the annual game at Peoria Stadium Nov. 9. "This is one of the strongest groups of seniors we've ever had here at Dunlap. They're all fantastic players and great students. We're really gonna miss those guys."

Dunlap seniors Dan Merriman, Eric Mauser, Derek Mills, Chase Salazar and Jacob Abou-Hanna all played in the all-star game.

Hansen called Merriman, the all-conference goalkeeper who is considering playing for Coastal Carolina University next year, one of the best to ever play at Dunlap.

"He saved so many games for us over the years," he said. "You don't replace a player like that very easily."

Mauser, a four-year starter on the back line, said he never saw anyone better at that position during his career.

"I'd rather have him in the net over anyone else," Mauser said. "He comes up with saves that others don't get to."

Salazar, who was named the defensive Most Valuable Player after the game, said he will miss his teammates, even though most of them will play club soccer together for one more spring.

"I grew up with half of these guys. We've known each other for so long," he said. "It was fun tonight, to just enjoy playing and not worrying so much about who wins. We're all good friends, even if we've played on different high school teams."

Salazar said he doesn't know if he will play soccer in college. He is considering a career in orthopedics.

"I have some experience with injuries," he said. "I've always wanted to work in that field."

Hansen said Mills and Abou-Hanna, the two big scoring threats for Dunlap, will also be missed.

"We had to switch Derek up top, and he just loved it, He took to it and had a great season for us," Hansen said. "Jacob battled shin splints all year, so we didn't have him at 100-percent, but he still battled out there. He's such a talented player."

Peoria Notre Dame coach Mike Bare and Richwoods coach Tony DeMoss also attended the game to bid farewell to their seniors.

"We didn't have a lot of seniors (Jon Andersh, Jeff Cassidy and Michael Schrader), but they were all extremely important players for us," Bare said. "Jon didn't face as many shots as some of the other goalkeepers, so he might have gotten overlooked. But, he's as good as it gets in the net. Michael had an outstanding career here, and Jeff was one of our most improved players. I'm proud of all three of them."

Ryan Campbell was the lone Richwoods senior on the roster (Taylor Huffman, Dylan Wiltz, and Nick Faulkner were also seniors at Richwoods, but they did not play in the all-star game).

"Ryan is so strong, and he's so god off the ball," DeMoss said. "He's looking at a few colleges (Monmouth, North Central College, Milliken). I can see him being a very good midfielder in college."

The Mid-Illini Conference all stars beat the Mid-State 6/Independent all-stars, 7-3.