A state championship legacy

Photo Caption: The boys soccer team and Coach Mike Bare of Peoria Notre Dame High School show off the Class 2A championship trophy after defeating Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin Saturday in Naperville.

By: By Tom Dermody

A hard-working, driven, talented, dedicated, close-knit family.

Those are words coaches and players used to describe the 2008 boys soccer team at Peoria Notre Dame High School.

History, however, will remember the 2008 Irish with a two-word phrase:

State champions.

Notre Dame earned the school’s second soccer state title in five years with a dominating run through the post-season, capped by a 3-0 win last Saturday over Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the Class 2A title game played at North Central College in Naperville.

“It’s great — the perfect way to go out,” said Matt Barkley, one of the team’s 11 seniors who were eighth- graders when Notre Dame earned the Class A state championship in 2004. “We couldn’t be happier.”

And they could hardly have played better. Over the course of seven games in the state tournament, Peoria Notre Dame outscored its opponents by a whopping 29-2.

The Irish defense did not give up a goal in nine of their last 10 games, including a string of eight consecutive shutouts. Junior goalkeeper Jon Andersh credited a “team effort” that “made my job easy.”

“I don’t think there’s a group of kids I’d rather work with,” said head coach Mike Bare, who called the team “an extremely hard-working group.”

“What separates Notre Dame soccer is how hard these kids work. Every day they try to improve,” added Bare, who played soccer at Notre Dame from 1995 to 1999 and is in just his second year as head coach.

“It’s really rewarding to see the kids sacrifice so much and be able to achieve what they’ve been working for,” he said.

Noting the soccer program’s rich tradition — and disappointments in recent years when excellent seasons failed to lead to state final appearances — Bare told The Catholic Post this senior-laden team set a goal of “leaving a legacy.”

“They certainly did that,” said Bare. In addition, they’ve also started some new traditions — including recognizing their state titles with small stars above the logo on their uniforms. Next year’s team jerseys will have two stars.

The team bus was greeted with a police escort back into Peoria on Saturday afternoon after the win, and players, coaches, and their families gathered at the home of Alex Crowley — one of three captains on the squad — for a celebration that evening.

Crowley said it has taken awhile for the state champion reality to sink in, but the medallions he and other teammates were awarded are permanent reminders, as is the large trophy that will join a crowded case at the school.

“It was a great feeling,” said Crowley of the moments after Vince Cicciarelli’s goal with four minutes left in the championship game gave the Irish an insurmountable three goal lead. “A huge sigh of relief.”

Also scoring goals in the title game were Dominic Bonello, an all-state defensive midfielder, and Brogan O’Brien, who deflected a Bonello pass into the net for an insurance tally with just eight minutes left in the game.

After the final seconds ticked away, team members raced across the field toward the bleachers to share the moment with fans who had cheered them on in chilly, rainy, windy conditions. The trophy and medal presentation followed.

The celebration was to continue this Friday with a 2 p.m. rally at Peoria Notre Dame, and the team will go to city hall on Tuesday, Nov. 25, to be recognized by the mayor of Peoria.

Coach Bare expressed gratitude to Father Dustin Schultz, parochial vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Peoria, who traveled with the team and celebrated pre-game Masses in the hotel on Friday and Saturday mornings. Father Schultz, he said, reminded the players their talents are gifts from God.

The players, said Bare, can be proud of how they worked to develop those God-given talents. It’s a lesson that will serve them well throughout life, he said.

“It’s not about wins and losses but doing the best we can,” said Bare, who played for former Notre Dame coach Danny Driscoll. “Hard work pays off.”

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