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ND MEN’S SOCCER: Frosh set the pace for Irish

Joe Meixell | Thursday, September 1, 2005

Bright Dike appears out of place on the soccer field. Notre Dame’s speedy six-foot-one inch, 195-pound freshman forward looks better suited for the gridiron than the pitch.

“He is a horse,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “I’m just hoping Charlie Weis doesn’t see him. Maybe he’d be a linebacker. He’s a specimen.”

Even more impressive than Dike’s huge frame has been his play along with his two freshman classmates – Jack Traynor and Matt Besler. Only two games into their Irish careers, the trio has already made significant contributions to Clark’s squad.

In the opening exhibition game against New Mexico, Traynor entered the game in the second half and played superb defense for the remainder of the double overtime tie. His performance impressed the Irish staff to such an extent they inserted the defender into the starting lineup for Sunday’s exhibition contest with Michigan.

Dike also impressed in the season opener, providing fresh legs during the two overtimes. The forward then recorded two shots on goal against the Wolverines.

Besler did not see action against New Mexico, but entered the Michigan game at the beginning of overtime. The midfielder made the most of his opportunity, finding Ian Etherington for the game winning goal and his first collegiate assist.

The strong early play of these freshmen came as no surprise to Clark. The coach knew entering the year that he had a talented group of newcomers.

Traynor starred at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Mo., earning all-state honors his junior and senior year. Clark has been extremely pleased with Traynor’s poise in his first two games.

“Jack’s just very calm and very cool,” Clark said. “He makes good decisions with the ball. He’s just a smart player.”

Like Traynor, Dike also garnered all-state honors in his senior year of high school at Edmond North High School in Edmond, Ok. His most impressive performance may have come in the state championship game of his junior season. With his team trailing 1-0 at intermission, Dike responded with three second-half goals to secure the state title.

Dike thinks that his superior size gives him a distinct advantage at the forward position. Clark agrees with the freshman’s assessment.

“He’s fast and he’s strong,” Clark said. “He gives us something that maybe we haven’t had up front – a big strong attacking threat.”

Not to be outdone, Besler also enters Notre Dame with a stellar resume behind him. He led Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Ks. to the 2005 state title and received all state honors. StudentSportSoccer.com named Besler the 16th best midfielder in the nation for last year’s senior class. Clark liked his strong and heady play against Michigan.

“Matt came on and was brilliant actually in the game against Michigan,” Clark said. “He played smart and sensible soccer. It was great to see him get the assist on the winning goal.”

But the early success has not come easy for the freshmen. Each player has had to deal with the significant jump in level of play from high school and club soccer to the collegiate game.

“It’s a whole different game,” Dike said. “You’ve got to play faster. You’ve got to think quicker. It’s not club soccer anymore.”

Besler echoed Dike’s statement, saying he didn’t realize how significant the adjustment would be.

“Obviously everyone says it’s bigger, stronger, faster, but you don’t really realize it until you get up here,” Besler said.

The three players are pleased with their early accomplishments, but remain focused on team goals. The Irish coaching staff expects to receive continued strong play from the trio along with contributions from the four other members of the freshman class – defender Kyle Dagan, midfielder Cory Rellas and goalkeepers Andrew Quinn and Luke Seibolt.

“If we’re going to win the national championship, we are going to need eighteen players that are going to contribute, not just eleven,” Clark said.