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Apple Era Begins At Notre Dame With Great Promise

Aug. 13, 2000

Two words may best describe the Notre Dame men’s soccer season: potential and pride.

The 2000 edition of Irish men’s soccer has first-year head coach Chris Apple excited for many reasons. First is the potential. Eight returning starters (four of them sophomores) help comprise one of the most talented squads in recent memory, including 1999 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year Erich Braun. With just six seniors on this year’s roster, this young, but experienced group of players is ready to make its mark on the national scene. Also add to the mix one of the nation’s finest recruiting classes (and perhaps best in school history), consisting of seven incoming freshmen and two Parade All-Americans, and you can understand the optimism the Irish mentor feels.

“One of the most exciting things about this season is that there is so much potential on this team,” Apple says.

“We’re still coming to understand just how good we can really be. There are a lot of question marks heading into this season, but with our potential, the excitement for this year is definitely high.”

The second reason for Apple’s excitement and the anticipated success the team will have may come down to one intangible – pride. The adversity the team faced following the untimely death of its former coach, Mike Berticelli, in January has bonded this team together in a number of ways.

Former head coach Mike Berticelli
Former head coach Mike Berticelli

The Irish learned a great deal from last season’s sub-par 8-9-3 campaign. First and foremost was the importance of consistency on the playing field. In certain games last season, Notre Dame performed brilliantly, but in other contests, it proved to very vulnerable.

“We experienced a lot of different lessons last year,” Apple says. “We had a roller coaster season and learned a lot from it. We showed ourselves a year ago that we had to be ready to play every game. On our best day we could beat anyone in the country, but on our worst day, pretty much any team could beat us.”

Leadership will be an important aspect in avoiding those letdowns. Apple has a great deal of confidence in the leadership abilities of his seniors, especially his three captains – Connor LaRose, Stephen Maio and Dustin Pridmore. Their experience, maturity and tremendous work ethic will be motivating factors for the underclassmen.

“Connor, Stephen and Dustin were elected captains on this team, but all of our seniors are going to be in their own right captains this year,” Apple says.

“All of them have been extremely loyal to the program the past three years and have worked extremely hard both on and off the field. They believe in this program and in themselves. This year’s senior class is very supportive of each other and of the underclassmen.”

The strength of this year’s Notre Dame team once again will be its defense, while the biggest question mark facing Apple and his staff will be finding more goalscorers. The defense carried the squad a year ago, recording seven shutouts and registering a 1.18 goals against average, while the offense struggled at times and managed just 27 goals for an average of 1.35 goals per game.

Notre Dame returns most of its defense, including sophomores starters Andreas Forstner, one of the BIG EAST’s top defenders, and Justin Ratcliffe, a 20-game starter, and seniors Maio and LaRose. Apple will need to find replacement for sweeper Matt McNew, a four-year starter who is now a kicker for the Irish football team, and 1999 Team MVP goalie Gerick Short who played all but 35:30 of the ’99 campaign.

“We return a group of players who take a great deal of pride in their defense.” Apple says.

“For much of the season last year, we ranked in the top 10 nationally in shutouts. Replacing Matt (McNew) and Gerick (Short) will not be easy, but the core of players we have returning is excellent. They are familiar with each other and the system we have in place and really work well together. We’re not going to change much with this group.”

The past two seasons, the Irish have relied primarily on just one goalscorer. Two years ago it was Shane Walton (now a member of the Notre Dame football team), and last year it was Braun (nine goals, six assists). Apple knows the importance this year of having some others step up offensively. A one-man scoring attack is too easy for opponents to shut down.

“Erich is certainly going to be a goal scorer for us again this season,” Apple says. “Everyone in the BIG EAST knows what kind of player he is, and every team in our conference is going to try to shut him down. The biggest dilemma facing us is that we need others to step up and relieve some of the scoring burden from him. We need to score goals as a team.”

Apple will be looking for a much more balanced attack coming from both the forward line and midfield. Look for sophomores Rafael Garcia, Paul Rodriguez, Alan Lyskawa and Shea Helmle, and juniors Matt Rosso, Reggie McKnight and Dustin Pridmore to become a bigger part of the Irish scoring mix.

“I’m confident that if given the opportunity,” Apple says, “we have a number of guys who can put the ball in the back of the net. During spring training, only Erich (Braun) and Rafael (Garcia) showed any confidence in their goal-scoring ability. We need much more balance on offense this season.

“The teams that win national championships every year have six or seven players who can score goals, not just one. I want to have seven or eight players on my team who can contribute five or more goals in a season.”

Last year, Notre Dame entered the ’99 campaign without the services of a tested goalie. Despite his lack of playing time previously, Short, a fifth-year player, started all 20 games and recorded a 1.20 goals against average. The Irish face a similar situation with two untested sophomores, Greg Tait and Cole Straub, battling for the starting job in 2000.

Apple and his coaching staff will be challenged by a demanding schedule as the Irish begin their sixth year as a member of the BIG EAST. The league remains one of the nation’s premier soccer conferences. Notre Dame’s non-conference slate features matchups against New Mexico and UNLV at the UNLV Fila/Snickers Rebel Classic and Bradley.

“We’re fortunate to be playing in such an outstanding conference.” Apple says.

“The BIG EAST is one of the nation’s toughest leagues. From top to bottom there is no easy game in this league. No team in this conference gives you an inch, no matter who it is. Additionally, we’re playing in a couple of big-time tournaments that will test us early and will give us something to evaluate where we’re at and what we need to work on to get better.”

There is a solid group of returning players in this area of the field, starting with sophomore sensation Erich Braun, a certain All-America candidate in 2000.

Erich Braun
All-America candidate Erich Braun

As a rookie, the Frankfurt, Germany, product became the first Notre Dame player to earn one of the league’s major player-of-the-year awards when he was named the ’99 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Braun tallied nine goals and six assists (24 points) a year ago and finished third in the league in scoring with seven goals and three assists. His 17 points in 11 league games set the BIG EAST rookie single-season scoring record.

By the time his career is finished, Braun could rank as one of the school’s most prolific scorers. The primary challenge facing him this season is that he in each and every game, he will be marked by the opposing team’s top defenders, his athletic talents and scoring capabilities are certain not to be a secret to Irish opponents this season. Braun is going to have to elevate his game and make some adjustments, but Apple is hoping that if other players step up to take some of the scoring burden off of him, he will be as effective as he was a year ago.

“In terms of recognizing his talents, Erich is a very confident player,” Apple says. “He needs to recognize this year when to be a goal scorer and when he needs to be the one who sets up the goals. He has a great eye for finding players with the ball and for finding space for himself so that players can find him.”

Senior Reggie McKnight proved early on in his career that he can be an efficient goalscorer, so it is likely this season that Apple will move him from the midfield up to the forward line. As a freshman, McKnight had four goals and three assists, but that tapered off to just one assist in ’99 after battling injuries. The Irish coaching staff will be looking to take advantage of his speed and athleticism.

“Reggie has been a utility player for us in his first three seasons,” Apple says. “We’ve used him in the backfield, midfield and up front. I believe that this year he will best fill our needs by moving him more to the attack. As a forward, his speed and athleticism will cause fear in our opponents and that’s exciting.”

Sophomore Rafael Garcia enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign and is one of several young players Apple is counting on to become more of a scoring threat. Garcia played in all 20 contests in ’99 and made 12 starts while scoring two goals and dishing off one assist. He is extremely quick and athletic and could emerge this season as a dangerous goal-scoring threat.

“Rafael is a fun player to watch,” Apple says. “He can do brilliant things with the ball and is comfortable with it. He has probably one of the best first touches on the team. We’re looking for him to have more of an impact this season and to put himself in position to become more of a goal scorer.”

Braun and Garcia complement each other well on the field and should prove this season to be a strong scoring tandem. They work well together on the field in setting each other up to score. As two of the best finishers on the team, they should rank among the scoring leaders for the Irish in 2000.

Sophomore Shea Helmle’s determination and perseverance will earn him more playing time this season as he is expected to be a key player for the Irish on the forward line. Helmle returns for his second season as one of Notre Dame’s most improved players. He saw action in 17 contests a year ago and showed his potential as a goal scorer for the Irish.

“Clearly Shea is our most improved player from a year ago,” Apple says. “He spent more hours this spring shooting and finishing his shots than any player I’ve been around the last four years. Shea is so determined to make himself a better player so he can contribute in more ways this season.”

While just a freshman, Devon Prescod is likely to play a significant role on this year’s team and will see time as either a midfielder or forward. He is a crafty, athletic player with strong fundamental skills. In addition to being a goal scorer, Prescod also is able create goal-scoring chances.

“Devon is the type of player every team needs,” Apple says. “He is able to go one on one against defenders and is able to beat opposing players with his dribble. Devon will score his share of goals because of his ability to cut through opposing defenses, but he also should be another player we are going to rely on to set up scoring opportunities for others.”

Freshman Brian Jarvis is a player with considerable potential because of his athletic skills. In terms of speed, strength and size, he has all the physical attributes to be a great player. Jarvis is somewhat of a question mark this season in terms of how he is going to contribute on the field, but there is the potential for him to be an exciting player.

“We really don’t know what to expect from Brian,” Apple says. “He has the luxury of not having to step in right away. He can ease his way onto the field playing in back of some players while he makes the adjustment and move to the college game.”

Notre Dame’s midfield has struggled with inconsistency the last couple of seasons, but Apple hopes this unit finds the right chemistry on the playing field in 2000. Generating more offense from the midfield is one of Apple’s highest priorities this season. With the return of several experienced and talented players, in addition to several rookies who were recruited primarily for their expertise in the midfield, Apple is expecting more productivity and balance from this group in terms of scoring.

Dustin Pridmore
Dustin Pridmore

Senior captain Dustin Pridmore has been a major player on this team for three years and he’ll probably take on an even greater role this season. He started 13 of the 19 games he played in ’99 and finished as the team’s fourth-leading scorer with three goals and an assist (seven points). Pridmore’s versatility allows him to win balls in the air, as well as generating scoring opportunities.

“Dustin is a true team leader in every way possible,” Apple says. “He adds so much to this team in terms of his soccer and leadership abilities. Dustin is a scoring threat from anywhere on the field because he can strike the ball from any distance and score goals from outside the penalty box.”

Sophomore Alan Lyskawa is a key to the Irish success in the midfield this year after displaying his scoring capabilities a year ago. One of three freshmen to start all 20 games a year ago, he tallied two goals and dished off four assists (eight points) to finish third in the Irish scoring column. Lyskawa gives Notre Dame much needed consistency in the midfield and is a presence at all ends of the field.

“Alan had a tremendous freshman season and we’re looking for him to continue to make the strides he did a year ago,” Apple says. “He’s an extremely well-conditioned athlete and a strong technical player. Not only can he score, but he can pass the ball off too. I look for Alan to be even more of an attacking and offensive-minded player this season. One of the ways he can become more of a scoring threat is by getting in the penalty box more often.”

Junior Matt Rosso is one of Notre Dame’s most exciting players in terms of what he does on the field. His energy and quickness seem to give the Irish a boost when he enters the game. Matt has a strong all-around game. He is able to score goals, create goals and beat players one on one. His biggest challenge is maintaining the high level of play in each game and in each practice.”

Paul Rodriguez is another second-year player who gained valuable experience in his rookie season. He started six of the 12 games he played and scored one goal. Apple expects Rodriguez to raise his level of play this year as he becomes more of involved in scoring and creating those goal-scoring chances.”

“Both Paul and I believe his role on the team will be greater this season,” Apple says. “He has set some high goals for himself and wants to be more involved on the field in every way possible. Paul has done everything we have asked of him to improve his game so I expect him to be a valuable member of our midfield unit.”

In order to improve the Irish attack from the midfield, sophomore Justin Ratcliffe will move from the backfield this season. Ratcliffe, a starter in all 20 contests, has been one of the squad’s most improved players since the beginning of the ’99 campaign. He is a very technical player with strong dribbling and passing skills. Notre Dame’s goal-scoring chances will be enhanced by his ability to serve the ball into the box.

“Justin came to Notre Dame with very sound fundamental skills,” Apple says. “He wasn’t prepared last season for the mental and physical rigors of college soccer. His move to the midfield will have a positive effect on the attack.”

Freshman Justin Detter, one of two Parade All-Americans to join the Notre Dame lineup this season, brings a physical presence to this year’s squad that is going to be vital to the team’s success. Detter is a tremendously gifted athlete with superior athletic skills. He plays with a great deal of maturity, confidence and composure when he is on the field. Apple believes that he will immediately challenge for a spot in the starting lineup.

“Justin will make significant contributions on the playing field this season,” Apple says. “He’s such a fierce competitor, his competitiveness will make us a better team. Justin does so many of the little things well and has an aggressive style of play. He will be active in our offensive scheme because he can both score and distribute the ball. We’re very excited to get him on the field.”

Senior Griffin Howard’s playing time the past two seasons has been very limited. He missed the ’98 campaign because of injuries and saw action in only two games last season before being dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons. Apple believes that despite his lack of playing time over the past two years, he will have a role on this team.

“Griffin has overcome injuries and some personal issues during his career,” Apple says. “Having faced the challenges he has, I think he is a much stronger individual. If we face any adversity this season, I’m confident he is going to help us through it.”

Junior Tim Storino will give the Irish depth wide in the midfield. The improvement he has shown over the past two years will earn him more playing time this season. Storino’s strengths are his ability to challenge defenders one on one as well as his dribbling and passing. He played in three games last season and earned his first career start against Valparaiso.

“Tim is going to contribute more to the team this season,” Apple says. “He continues to improve his game in all areas. What we would like to see him do is raise his level of intensity on the playing field in games.”

Another first-year player Apple expects to contribute immediately this season is Filippo Chillemi. Chillemi spent time with the Under-17 National Team for two years and has considerable international experience. He is a very mature individual who shows great composure on the playing field. Chillemi is someone who controls the tempo of the game with his passing and movement on the field.

“When we recruited Filippo, we were impressed with the versatility of his game and the maturity he shows on the field,” Apple says. “He doesn’t get rattled in situations and can control the tempo of the game with his passing and movement on the field. Filippo understands how to move the ball around the field and is a strong possession-oriented midfielder.”

Freshman Chad Riley also looks to compete for playing time immediately. He brings a wealth of international experience to this Irish squad as well after spending the past school year living and playing soccer in England. Riley’s strong passing and dribbling skills open up the Irish attack in the midfield.

“We’re very excited to have Chad join our program,” Apple says. “He is an extremely sound fundamental player whose game has probably improved tremendously during the past year after playing in England. From a physical standpoint, England is one of the toughest places to play soccer. The competition he encountered and the type of play he faced over there, I’m sure, has made him a much better player.”

Kevin Richards is another first-year player who looks to compete for playing time in the midfield. A member of the Bermuda National Team, he’s a player with considerable quickness. Richards’ technique also will be an asset for him, but the one thing he may lack is physical size and strength.

“Kevin’s quickness is going to be a great asset for him this year competing against players who are much stronger,” Apple says. “It may take him some time to adjust to the level of physical play in the college game, but I’m confident he is going to make that transition.”

Notre Dame’s defense has proven to be a strong suit for the Irish over the past several seasons. Apple’s defense in 2000 once again will be the backbone of the team with a returning core of experienced players that comprises one of the most talented defenses in school history.

Senior tri-captains Stephen Maio and Connor LaRose are the anchors of this year’s defensive efforts. Apple expects their experience and leadership to be invaluable throughout the entire campaign.

Maio started all 18 games he played a year ago and was able to avoid injuries which had plagued him in his first two seasons. He missed the entire spring training battling mononucleosis, but is expected to be 100 percent when the Irish commence with preseason workouts in August. He is a player totally committed to excellence and in doing whatever he can for the benefit of the team. Maio’s quickness will be an asset to Notre Dame’s defensive scheme.

“Stephen is of great inspiration to this team and has a tremendous appreciation for what it means to be a leader,” Apple says. “He has overcome his injuries, and I feel like this season he is going to come into his own. His leadership abilities are not his only talents. Stephen is a great ball winner and tackler, and his improved passing abilities have made him a much more complete player. We are expecting him to have a tremendous season.”

LaRose’s composure on the field will make him a steadying force on this year’s Irish team. A leader by example, he has the respect and admiration of his teammates. LaRose has been a two-year starter for the Irish, and with each season, he has been a more valued member of the squad. In addition to his defensive efforts, he has proven that he can contribute offensively, scoring two goals and dishing off two assists in ’99. LaRose is one of the team’s most consistent players on the field and one of the best defenders in the BIG EAST because he doesn’t get beat.

“Connor offers so much to this team,” Apple says. “Players feel comfortable with him as our leader, and in many ways, he is the backbone of our team. He’s one of the top defenders in the league because of his consistency on the field. He wins balls in the air, and over the past three years, he has become a more complete player. His passing ability is to the point where he now has become a force on our attack with the early service he provides with the ball.”

Sophomore Andreas Forstner may be as talented a defender as any player in the history of the program. He’s a leader from the back and helps organize the Irish defense. Forstner, who started all 18 games he played as a rookie, can initiate the attack with his excellent passing skills. He is an intelligent player in terms of knowing where he is on the field and in reading and intercepting passes.

“Andreas is a very smart player who anticipates situations very well and has the ability to read where the ball is going and intercept passes,” Apple says.

“Even though he is just as sophomore, players respect him, he has a natural ability to lead people. He’s not a big player, but he plays big. He’s as consistent as anyone on the team. By the time he leaves Notre Dame, Andreas will have established his own special niche here.”

Junior B.J. Cotter rejoins the Irish squad after not playing in ’99. He had a tremendous spring and is looking forward to contributing this season. After missing all of last season, it may take him some time to get back into playing condition, but Apple is expecting him to be a factor in the lineup.

“Despite not having played for the last year, B.J. performed beyond my expectations,” Apple says. “He’s physically a very strong player who uses his strength and height to his advantage. B.J. also is very quick and a tough player to beat and go up against. We’re excited to have him back on the team.”

Freshman Greg Martin is the other incoming Parade All-American to join the Irish roster. He has tremendous international experience having played on the ’99 Youth World Cup team. He has the natural ability and drive to excel to have an outstanding career at Notre Dame. Martin’s tenacity and hard-nosed tackling will benefit the Irish this season. Apple expect him to challenge for starting job in the backfield.

“Greg is a much-needed addition to our team,” Apple says. “We’ll lose several key defenders after this season, so it’s important he become an integral figure in our scheme. He’s as physically and mentally tough as any player I’ve come across. We need his type of mentally and toughness.”

Senior Dan Storino and junior Evan Oliver have battled injuries. Storino played in just one game a year ago, while Oliver has yet to step on the playing field in his two seasons. Both give the Irish depth in the backfield.

“Dan’s level of commitment to excellence is something that will serve as a great role model for the incoming freshman,” Apple says.

“Hopefully Evan can stay healthy and help us in the back. He’s good in the air and is a strong tackler. He’s someone who needs to get experience on the field.”

Battling for the starting goalkeeper job left vacant by Gerick Short are two sophomores, Greg Tait and Cole Straub. Both are untested, with Tait seeing action in just three contests (totaling 35:30) in ’99, while Straub did not play in a game. Apple anticipates that a final decision on who the starting goalkeeper will be may go down to the final practice.

“Greg and Cole are both terrific goalkeepers, and I anticipate that this is going to be a battle that is going to go down to the wire,” Apple says. “They are different in a number of ways. Greg is tall and lanky and offers a physical presence in the goal, while Cole is very quick and an excellent ball-stopper.”

As a prep standout, Tait was regarded as one of the top goalkeepers nationally. He missed spring training battling mononucleosis, but is expected to be at full strength when preseason workouts begin. Tait’s height advantage allows him to get to a lot of high balls.

“Greg can get to everything in the air,” Apple says. “If teams are going to play an air attack and like to play balls from the penalty box, then they are going to be frustrated by his ability to stop those kind of shots.”

Straub is extremely athletic and a talented athlete. He’s extremely quick and has an exceptional vertical leap. Straub benefitted from Tait missing the spring workouts because it allowed him to work on different elements of his game and gave him playing time in the spring games we played.

“Cole’s overall game has improved tremendously since last season,” Apple says. “The spring definitely helped him. The competition is a healthy one between him and Greg and makes our situation better because each is pushing each other every day in practice.”