The hair color is the same, only the faces have changed.
Notre Dame Regional High School brought home its first boys high school soccer state championship last season, but with nine starters lost due to graduation one of the few things area soccer fans may recognize about the Bulldogs this season is their trademark golden locks, a trend that started last year when the players all bleached their hair blond.
"We're going to be inexperienced as far as varsity experience goes, but I like this group we have," coach Brad Wittenborn said.
The road to St. Louis starts today for Notre Dame, which takes on Marion, Ill., at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the Notre Dame Soccerfest. Also on Notre Dame's side of the bracket is district foe St. Pius.
"It gives us a chance to get an early look at them," Wittenborn said of St. Pius.
Gone from the Class 1 state championship squad is the speed and goal scoring of all-staters Tyler Cuba and Adam Prasanphanich, and in their place are seniors Blake Urhahn and Jonathan Market. Urhahn and Market combined for 18 goals last season and will be expected to carry much of the offensive load this season.
"We're just going to try to get everyone in the flow, in sync," Market said.
Frankie Ellis, a sophomore who led the junior varsity in goals last season, will not suit up due to a knee injury.
"Frankie being hurt is a big loss for us," Wittenborn said. "We'll miss him."
Without Ellis, players like sophomore Jason Delgado and Dee Goodin should get more opportunities to provide a spark on offense.
"We'll be strong in the end because other guys will get the minutes," Wittenborn said.
The defense will have little experience returning. All four starters are gone along with two-time all-state goalie Travis Siebert. Junior Mark Unterreiner and David Kiblinger both saw varsity time last season.
"I think that's probably the biggest question mark on the team," Wittenborn said.
Along with Notre Dame, Central and Jackson will also hit the field in the Soccerfest today. Central will face Sikeston and Jackson will face St. Pius. Also on Central's side of the bracket Carbondale (Ill.) will face Poplar Bluff.
"It's a real good tournament to start the year," Wittenborn said.
Today will also be the first day of the Notre Dame Softballfest, which had two games rained out Wednesday. Notre Dame will face Sikeston at 4 p.m. and Park Hills Central plays Ste. Genevieve at 5:30. Wednesday's games were rescheduled for Friday.
Rounding out the festivals will be the Volleyballfest which starts Friday. Notre Dame will take on Dexter and Rosary on the opening day. Area schools St. Vincent and Perryville are also competing.
All of the tournaments have eight-team fields.
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