No offense, but defense comes first

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Notre Dame senior Himmelberg helped ease the effect of a late-season injury with a move to defense.

Notre Dame's Mark Himmelberg scored the game-winning goal for the Bulldogs late in the second half of last year's Class 2 state championship game.

This year he helped the Bulldogs capture their second straight title in a new role as a sweeper.

Himmelberg was called upon to move from forward to defense in mid-October because of an ACL injury to defender Chris McMillan.

"It's kind of a bummer because I like to score," Himmelberg said after the Bulldogs' semifinal win Friday. "That sounds selfish. But I mean, it is what's best for the team and I'm enjoying it."

Himmelberg might not like his new role as much as his old one. And it might not be as flashy of a position as forward. But he played well in the back row and his presence was again felt in the Bulldogs' 4-1 victory over Smithville in the Class 2 title game Saturday afternoon.

Himmelberg and the rest of the defense limited Smithville to three shots all game -- only one of which was a shot on goal.

The Warriors had many players who were having strong years offensively, including senior Zach Doolan with 35 goals and 21 assists and Caleb Watts with 16 goals and 20 assists. But the defense shut down the Warriors' top offensive threats.

"He was very solid and he didn't get beat off the dribble once," Notre Dame coach Brad Wittenborn said. "When someone did get through and he was the last guy, they didn't get by him. And he played a lot of great balls up at the top."

Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bass said Himmelberg has fit in well at his new position. Since he became the sweeper, the defense only allowed three goals in seven games. Over that time, the Bulldogs posted a 6-1 record.

"He made a good transition," Bass said. "Day in and day out since he's been back there it has been shutdown.

"Himmelberg in the back makes sure people are marked up, and he's really vocal back there," Bass added. "There were a couple times today there was a guy behind [Matt] Kiblinger and I was screaming my head off at him but I couldn't really get his attention. Himmelberg was able to bridge it so he could hear."

Himmelberg said the strong defense in the title game started with the midfield.

"They did a good job the first half, especially of possessing it and keeping the other team off balance and getting the ball up top," he said. "I thought we [the defense] did a real good job of not diving in and making stupid fouls and took the ball away."

Himmelberg did get a little offense in, too. He had an assist, passing a free kick to Ryan Willen, who headed it into the net to put the Bulldogs up 2-0.

"I was probably about 35 yards out on the right side," he said. "I just looked for Ryan and we were kind of on the same page of what run he wants to make, and I just played it into the slot where I thought he'd be. And he ended up being there."

Reward: No-uniforms

When the team brought the Class 2 title trophy over to the stands toward their cheering section, their fellow classmates started chanting "No school Monday, No school Monday."

The chant worked.

Sort of.

There was a little compromise in there, Himmelberg said.

"We were just trying to poke a little fun with [Notre Dame principal] Brother David [Anthony Migliorino] and he decided to give us two dress-down days, so Monday and Tuesday we don't have to wear our school uniforms," Himmelberg said. "So I guess that's a good compromise."

Winning one for a friend

Wittenborn said this championship was special because the team dedicated this state tournament to Bruce Brinkmeyer, who was the head of maintenance at Notre Dame before dying of a stroke Nov. 6.

"The guys really wanted to win this for our maintenance guy who passed away, and that made this really special," Wittenborn said. "He came to every ballgame. It didn't matter who it was playing."

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