July 20, 1998
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Ninth-year Notre Dame men's soccer coach Mike Berticelli looks
forward to the 1998 season with great anticipation.
It's not just the fact that the Irish return seven starters from
last year's squad which posted a 10-9-2 record overall during the
1997 campaign and made a strong late-season finish to earn its
second straight appearance in the BIG EAST tournament semifinals.
What has Berticelli most excited about this year's team is the
tremendous focus and team chemistry that exists.
"Unquestionably, the strength of this year's team is the
chemistry the players have with each other," Berticelli says.
"You could really see it during spring workouts. This team has
the best chemistry and character of any squad I have coached
since coming to Notre Dame. They get along extremely well and
work well together. They work hard for each other."
That feeling of teamwork has created a purpose for this year's
team. Undoubtedly, one of the components for success will be the
unselfish attitude of the entire squad. While this team may not
have the overall talent in all areas of the field that some of
the past Irish squads have had, it certainly will not be a group
of players short on character.
"This team has tremendous character to overcome adversity,"
Berticelli says. "The unselfish attitude that was displayed by
each player this spring is something that is going to carry us
early on in the season. We have a group of players this year
with a strong work ethic who believe that they can win games."
Leadership begins with senior co-captains Matt Johnson and Phil
Murphy. Both have played key roles in Notre Dame's success over
the past two seasons, and their leadership which will be an
important factor for the Irish early on.
Johnson has started all but one game for the Irish during his
three-year career spanning 63 games, while Murphy, a former
walk-on, has worked his way into the starting lineup. Both have
earned the respect from their teammates for their unselfish work
"You couldn't ask for two better captains than Matt and Phil,"
Berticelli says. "They're two great models both on and off the
field. Their leadership, as well as the leadership of all of our
upperclassmen, will be an important factor for us at the start of
While the '97 season was somewhat of a rebuilding year for
Berticelli and his staff, the Irish mentor saw significant
improvement from his young ballclub during the course of the
campaign and in the spring in terms of its team defense and its
possession of play in the midfield.
With the loss of the team's top two scorers, Ryan Turner (12
goals, five assists) and Bill Savarino (four goals, six assists),
the biggest obstable Berticelli's squad may need to overcome will
be in knowing who is going to score the goals. It was evident in
the spring that despite its strong defensive play, there were
many times that the Irish had problems putting the ball in the
Berticelli's biggest challenge will be finding a "go-to" person
and a player who will rise to the occasion. He most likely will
look to a number of proven scorers instead of just one or two
"We've had the luxury the past couple of year of having a couple
of primary goal scorers," Berticelli says. "I don't think this
year we can rely just on one or two players to score goals for
us. It's really going to have to be spread out because of the
way we play and scoring balance all around will be very
important." Berticelli will look to a number of
seasoned veterans -- seniors Ben Bocklage and Scott Wells, juniors
Andrew Aris and Ryan Cox -- and freshman Shane Walton to help out
with the scoring. Junior Matt McNew, who will move from
the sweeper position he has played the past two seasons into the
midfield this season, could also become a bigger scoring threat
for the Irish.
While Notre Dame adjusts and settles into an offensive gameplan,
the Irish will rely heavily on its defense, especially early on
in the campaign.
"Defense is going to be extremely important to us," Berticelli
says. "Our biggest objective will be to play well defensively in
every game, although we know that we can't rely on defense to win
every game for us. You can shut out a team, but ultimately,
we've got to be able to score and create scoring opportunities
The focus of the preseason for this Notre Dame squad will be in
solidfying its defense as well as learning how to become a
dangerous goal-scoring team.
The loss of leading scorer Ryan Turner has left Notre Dame with a
scoring void up front. This season, a blend of experience and
youth make up this year's forward unit.
Heading the list of returnees at forward is fifth-year senior
senior Scott Wells who played in all 21 games a year ago and made
18 starts. He returned to the Irish fold in '97 after playing in
just three games during his junior year following a concussion
and netted two goals while dishing off a team-leading eight
Berticelli will be looking for this fifth-year senior to step up
his play and to get more involved offensively this season. Wells
has the ability to score goals for the Irish.
"We're going to count heavily on Scott's leadership and maturity
this season," Berticelli says. "He did a great job for us last
year setting up other players and creating scoring opportunities
for others on the field. What we would like to see him do this
season is take more scoring responsibility."
Junior Andrew Aris gives Notre Dame big goal scoring potential on
the forward line; he looking to become one of the team's "go-to"
players. During the past two years, he has scored some big goals
for the Irish in games, but what he has lacked is the ability to
put the ball in the net consistently. Aris started nine of the
21 games he played a year ago, netted three goals and dished off
"Andrew definitely needs to be one of our top goal scorers this
season," Berticelli says. "He is terrific at beating players
one-on-one and getting through the box. He's an extremely
competitive player and has a good work rate. What I would like
to see Andrew do is finish his shots with more consistency."
Junior Ryan Cox's return to the lineup gives the Irish great
diversity and scoring potential up front. An all-BIG EAST Rookie
selection in 1996, he was slowed by injuries last season and only
played in the first two games of the '97 campaign. In his rookie
season, he started nine of the 19 games he saw action in and had
a goal and four assists.
Cox is a dangerous scoring threat, but has been held back because
of injuries during his career.
"Ryan is an explosive player who brings excitement to our
lineup," Berticelli says. "He's an extremely difficult player to
defend and certainly is very talented. Ryan's progress as a
player has been hindered by the fact that he's never been 100
percent. If he can stay healthy, Ryan has the ability to be one
of the top forwards in the country."
Freshman Shane Walton is another player who brings immediate
excitment and explosiveness to the Irish lineup. He will be a
major impact player for Notre Dame in his rookie season. Walton
is an extremely athletic player with good size and quickness.
A versatile athlete, he excelled in both soccer and football at
The Bishop's School. During his four-year career, he scored 45
goals and dished off 25 assists during his career and was rated
one the top players in Southern California.
"Shane will have an immediate impact for us this season and is a
truly gifted all-around athlete," Berticelli says. "He certainly
is one of the quickest players on our team. He will be very
exciting to watch when he is on the field; he is athletic, quick
and good in the air."
Junior Peter Bandera will contribute either in the midfield or at
forward. He played in only two games last season after seeing
action in six games as a freshman.
Last season, the Irish had to replace three seasoned veterans in
the midfield. This year, the midifeld unit is a strength of the
Notre Dame attack. It's an experienced and talented group of
returnees with the ability to produce a lot of goals.
The glue that holds the midfield together is three-year starter
Matt Johnson. The two-time Irish captain has maintained the
integrity of the Notre Dame attack and defense over the past
three years. Johnson controls the tempo of the game in this area
of the field, and his steadiness and consistency bring stability
to the lineup. In the 63 games he has played in during his
career, he has missed just one start.
Not known to be a scorer, Johnson had a goal and dished off four
assists in his junior season. He is one of the team's best
defensive players, but could help the Irish out offensively in
"Matt is an exemplary leader both on and off the field,"
Berticelli says. "During the past four years, he has contributed
in all areas and is someone we can count on every game. Matt is
the heart and soul of our defense in the midfield and displays
great composure with or without the ball."
Senior Ben Bocklage will be a key scoring threat for Notre Dame
in the midfield and is a proven big-goal scorer. During his
Irish career, he has played both on the forward line and in the
midfield. Bocklage, who played in 21 games a year ago and made
eight starts, was extremely effective for the Irish at the end of
the '97 campaign and finished the season with five goals. He
will be the one to initiate the attack for the Irish from the
"Ben is an aggressive and explosive player," Berticelli says.
"He needs to take responsiblity on the field for scoring goals as
well as utilizing the confidence and maturity he has gained from
his playing experience. I look for him to start this season the
way he finished up a year ago."
The move of junior Matt McNew from sweeper into the midfield
could prove to be a real bonus for the Irish in terms of
improving both its offensive and defensive game. McNew, a
natural midfield player in high school, was forced to play
sweeper the past two seasons because Notre Dame lacked solid
defenders in the backfield.
Berticelli looks for McNew to become more active offensively, but
also hopes to count on his defensive experience. McNew showed
last season that he can be a scorer as he netted two goals and
dished off two assists.
"We're looking for Matt to provide some firepower to our attack,"
Berticelli says. "He will help us with ball possession in the
midfield as well as become a scoring weapon. He has a very
powerful shot and can score from a lot of different places on the
Sophomore Reggie McKnight is coming off a strong rookie outing
with the Irish. The only freshman to play in all 21 games in '97
and a starter in 11 of those contests, McKnight will once again
be vying for a starting spot in the Notre Dame lineup. The
fourth-leading scorer a year ago, he netted four goals and dished
off three assists.
McKnight showed last season that he is capable goal scorer,
Berticelli expects him to be more productive offensively in '98.
"Reggie is a very gifted and athletic player," Berticelli says.
He has a great enthusiasm for the game and a strong work ethic.
Reggie gained valuable playing experience a year ago and we look
for him this season to become more of an active goal scorer."
Look for junior Jason Jorski to see more playing time this season
in the midfield after seeing action in just six games a year ago.
He has tremendous speed and an explosive shot. He is most
dangerous running at defenders with the ball.
Sophomore Dan Storino also will look to see more playing time in
the midfield and gives the Irish depth in the midfield.
Freshman Matt Rosso is an extremely solid midfield player who
will also be vying for playing time. A proven scorer, he scored
27 goals in his final scholastic campaign and dished off 11
assists. Berticelli will look to find him time in the lineup.
The Notre Dame defense will be the backbone of the Irish squad,
especially early on while the offense finds its identity up
front. Berticelli will rely on his defensive corps to maintain
the team's composure in the opening games of the season.
Senior co-captain Phil Murphy, a former walk-on, is one of the
steadying forces in the Notre Dame backfield. He is the
consummate team leader with a tremendous work ethic. Each and
every season, he has improved his overall game and last season
started all 20 games he played. Murphy has a keen understanding
of the Notre Dame defensive gameplan and grasps the tactics
extremely well. What makes him most effective is that he plays
within his limits and is a smart, consistent player; he keeps the
ball in play and does a good job of playing the ball off of his
"Phil will be our leader in the backfield," Berticelli says.
"Like Matt Johnson, he is an exemplary role model both on and off
the field. Phil is a key player for us because he is so
consistent; he knows what is expected of him and he just goes out
and gets it done."
Fifth-year senior David Cutler was a 16-game starter for the
Irish last season. He returned to the lineup a year ago after
missing the entire 1997 campaign while studying abroad in Italy.
Berticelli may play him at the sweeper position, but regardless
of where he places him in the lineup, Cutler is going to have to
continue to be an aggressive and tough defender.
"David is one of our most consistent and hard-working players,"
Berticelli says. "He's extremely dependable, has great timing
with the ball and can play anywhere on the field. From
time-to-time, he may see action in the midfield. What impressed
me most about him a year ago is that he stepped right in after
missing the '96 season and really didn't seem to miss a beat."
Sophomore Stephen Maio struggled with injuries a year ago, played
in only 13 games and made three starts. Heralded as one of the
top defenders in Canada, he looks to regain the form he had in
high school and will challenge for a starting position at marking
back. Maio comes from an outstanding background; he's a mature
and aggressive player with the potential to have a real impact.
"Stephen has great speed and intensity and a tremendous work
rate," Berticelli says. "He's a very strong, technical player
whose aggressive style of play really benefits our type of
Matt De Dominicis has been a utility player in the Irish
backfield the last two years, but at the end of his sophomore
season started a couple of games and was playing with a great
deal of confidence and consistency. De Dominicis also may see
time in the midfield, but Berticelli will look to take advantage
of his speed and work rate on defense.
"I look for Matt to really have a big year for us," Berticelli
says. "He has worked extremely hard over the past two seasons
improving all facets of his game."
No player showed more improvement during the course of the '97
campaign than Connor LaRose. A steady and consistent player, he
will be a factor for the Irish in his second season and will see
time as a marking back or in the midfield. LaRose played in 13
contests and earned starts in the final four games of the season.
He is one of the most intense and hard-working players on the
Irish squad. He demonstrated his intensity a year ago and seemed
to raise the team's level of play when he was in the game.
"Connor made the jump to the collegiate level much faster than we
expected," Berticelli says. "He may play as a marking back or
center midfielder this season. He'll fill a lot of roles for us
and will be an important ingredient to our success."
Sophomore Griffin Howard could move to sweeperback. He played
that spot during the spring and adjusted well to his new role.
Howard played in just five games as a freshman, but will see
considerably more playing time in his second season.
"Griffin is a good all-around player," Berticelli says. "He is
clean with the ball, is a good passer and is very strong in the
air. If Griffin continues to make the improvements in his game
that he showed at the end of last season and during the spring,
his play could be a real boost for us in the backfield."
Sophomore Dustin Pridmore is another player who will see time
both in the backfield and midfield. After seeing playing time in
just five games last season, he will look to see more playing
time this season and to be a more consistent player when he is on
the field. Berticelli is looking for him to contribute this
season after he showed flashes of brillance in his rookie outing.
Freshman Evan Oliver was expected to see playing time this
season, but knee surgery this summer is likely to force him to
miss the entire '98 campaign. Another freshman, Tim Storino,
gives the Irish depth in the backfield.
The goaltending duties once again will be left in the hands of
three-year starter Greg Velho. The Irish senior is primed for
his best season ever and heads into the '98 campaign as one of
the top goaltenders in the nation.
Over the past two years, Velho has played nearly every minute of
every contest. Last year, he was the only goalkeeper the Irish
used. In 21 games, he allowed 27 goals, registered a 1.23 goals
against average and made a career-best 94 saves during the season
while posting a .777 save percentage. He also recorded eight
shutouts in '97, giving him 21 for his career.
"Greg has matured a great deal during his three seasons,"
Berticelli says. "We're counting on his experience and
consistency early on. He's a good decision maker and very
confident. Greg gives us a good start in the back."
Senior Gerick Short has played sparingly his first three seasons
and last season did not see action in any contest. Berticelli
will look to get him more playing time this year.
Junior John Krivacic also will serve as a backup to Velho and
Short. He has not seen any action in his first two seasons at