Jack Dunn received an inspirational text message from Nathan Seaberg recently.
Seaberg scored 64 goals and tallied 30 assists during his all-state soccer career at Bettendorf that ended last spring. As extraordinary as Seaberg was in black and gold, he never could get the Bulldogs to the state tournament.
“He just told me, ‘Hey, you’re a great leader, your senior class can take this team to state and hopefully do something that I never did,’” Dunn said.
Bettendorf made the state tournament 15 consecutive years and won 26 matches on the biggest stage between 1995 and 2009. The Bulldogs have been to state only twice since then and not recorded a win.
The last four seasons have concluded with substate final losses to Iowa City High, Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Prairie and Iowa City West.
“Motivation has never been a question,” senior Dillon Tabares said. “Everybody is really motivated. Guys are determined, and we’ve got a really special group here.”
The Class 3A seventh-ranked Bulldogs have an athletic, experienced and talented back line.
Propelled by Dunn, an all-stater who will continue his career at Bradley University, Brant Mueller, Sam Brindle and Dawson Gamble, Bettendorf pitched a dozen shutouts in last year’s 14-3 campaign that included an undefeated run through the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
“That’s what gives us our confidence coming into the season, having such a strong back line and such a good senior class to play with,” Dunn said.
Bettendorf surrendered just three goals in nine conference matches last spring.
“I have no doubt we’ve got one of the best defenses in the whole state of Iowa,” Tabares said. “When you’ve got that, no matter who you’re playing against, you can always compete.”
The concern is finding consistent scoring.
Bettendorf lost its top two offensive weapons from last year in Seaberg (19 goals) and Juan Pablo Jimenez (10 goals).
“We just need to figure out how to get the ball in the back of the net,” Brindle said. “We have so much skill and so much athleticism.”
Junior midfielder Blake Rollinger and junior forward Dustin Harris figure to be prominent pieces to the Bulldogs’ attack. Rollinger registered eight goals a season ago and Harris scored for Bettendorf in its scrimmage last week against North Scott.
Even so, Dunn admits Bettendorf’s offensive makeup will be different than recent seasons.
“The team’s identity will be defensive-minded and counter attacks is where we’re going to get most of our goals,” he said. “If we can score goals, sky is the limit. If the goals don’t come, we’re going to be limited.”
Tabares returns after missing last season with a groin injury. The center back/fullback spent considerable time in physical therapy recovering from the injury.
“Missing all of last season was probably the most frustrating part of my life, at least to this point,” Tabares said.
The Bulldogs also are breaking in a new keeper in senior Sam Murphy, who was the backup to Jacob Wehr last season.
Murphy said having a savvy defense in front of him will ease the burden.
“I feel like I’m ready to go,” he stated. “I learned a lot from Jake and having him mentor me was big. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I do love the pressure and love having everyone else around me rely on me.
“It is important I step it up and take my game to a whole new level.”
Bettendorf was scheduled to play state-ranked Johnston and Urbandale on Saturday in Cedar Rapids but wet fields cancelled the matches.
The Bulldogs open the season Tuesday at Davenport North.
While another MAC title is an objective, Dunn said the season hinges on how the Bulldogs perform the last week of May.
The 2-1 loss to Iowa City West in last year’s substate final still stings, he admitted.
“It means everything to get back to that point,” he said. “Everything up until that point is preparation.”