ND duo has speed to burn

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

The Notre Dame soccer team is sporting a bleach blond look these days.

Some cheetah-like black spots on the heads of seniors Tyler Cuba and Adam Prasanphanich might be pretty fitting.

The pair displayed their sprinter speed last spring in Notre Dame's inaugural track season, and the seniors are among a few Bulldog players to belong to the Cheetah Club, having attained at least 20 mph on a treadmill during Acceleration Program testing through St. Francis Medical Center.

Cuba and Prasanphanich, who will be on the field today when Notre Dame hosts Central at 7 p.m., ran in the shadows of Jackson state champion Mario Whitney last spring. While Whitney was posting some of the top 100 and 200 high school times in the nation, Cuba and Prasanphanich were going along quietly, but not exactly plodding.

Cuba was usually a step ahead of Prasanphanich, who gained all-state in the 100 at the Class 2A Missouri State Track and Field Championships with a fourth-place finish. Cuba pulled a hamstring prior to districts, which ended his season.

The hamstring is completely heeled now as Cuba, a midfielder, recently topped out at 25 mph in his Cheetah Club testing. Prasanphanich, a forward, was again right behind at 24 mph.

"We're very blessed to have two players with that kind of speed," Notre Dame coach Brad Wittenborn said of his two returning first-team all-staters.

Wittenborn has led the Bulldog soccer program since 1992 and he's had some fleet-footed players.

"Tyler is probably at the top," he said. "I've been here long enough and I've seen quite a few decent athletes."

Cuba scored 20 goals as a sophomore, but saw that production drop to eight last year when he was switched from forward to midfield.

"Last year his goals fell off, but he did so much else," Wittenborn said, citing Cuba's field vision and passing ability.

Prasanphanich led the team with 16 goals last year and is known for hitting bullets.

"He's a very gifted goal scorer," Wittenborn said. "Every goal he had last year was emphatic, because he hit the ball so hard."

This year, the pair accounts for three of the five goals scored by Notre Dame (2-1), with Cuba leading the way with two.

"He's very intense with his play," Prasanphanich said. "He's constantly moving and constantly looking for ways to improve himself and the team."

One of Cuba's goals last year was the game-winner in a 1-0 regular-season victory over nemesis St. Mary's, a perennial state power. Cuba used his quickness to pick off a weak pass between defenders and blasted the shot past the goalkeeper.

"When it's one of them and a defender in a race for the ball, just to watch the explosive runs they make is very special," Wittenborn said. "You don't always have athletes that can outrun whoever they play against like that."

"We try to use our speed as much to our advantage as possible," Prasanphanich said. "Sometimes you can wear out quickly if you don't make smart runs. The runs we make we have to make sure they're useful."

Both players are typical of new type of soccer athlete. One that spends time in the weight room.

Wittenborn cited the strong build of Prasanphanich from head-to-toe, complete with thick calves.

"There was a time when you just didn't have soccer players look like that," Wittenborn said. "If we had a football team, they'd want the soccer players."

Like football, there's no substitute for speed in soccer.

"You could take an athlete with good speed and get by with them at some positions," Wittenborn said. "But even an athlete with good skills, if he doesn't have any speed at all, he can't play much at the level we play."

Speed and power become potent when combined with soccer skills.

Cuba and Prasanphanich possess both, prerequisites for to make the elite Anheuser-Busch club team in St. Louis, for which both play.

Playing for a club team 100 miles away requires a huge commitment, but Cuba still finds time for other sports. He was a starting guard for the Bulldogs' varsity basketball last year, as well as on the track team.

Cuba plans to play basketball again this year, but is leaning away from track to prepare for college soccer, something which Prasanphanich also plans to play. Wittenborn believes both can play division I soccer next year.

Cuba has his eyes set on college soccer power St. Louis University, which would be a good fit for his ambitions of being an orthopedic surgeon.

He's had numerous contacts, as well as dinner, with Billiken coach Dan Donigan.

"It's still up in the air right now," Cuba said. "It could fall through, or it could work out. But I still have my eyes open for other colleges. But that's where I'd like to go."

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