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Trio of freshmen help lead Duke in final games

Sebastien Ibeagha

When then-seniors Josh Bienenfeld and Ryan McDaniel graduated after last season, head coach John Kerr lost two key central midfielders from his squad. Fortunately for Duke, the coach brought in a class of nine freshmen, three of whom, Jonathan Aguirre, Sebastien Ibeagha and Rob Dolot, have started nearly every game this year for the Blue Devils. They have and will continue to play an instrumental part in Duke’s push for success in the postseason.

Hailing from Madison, N.J., Aguirre came in with high expectations and, for the most part, has lived up to them. After his collegiate career got off to a rough start when he was red carded in his first game, Aguirre has manned the midfield with poise and skill.

“Johnny is a really good ball-winner, a really tough kid,” senior captain Cole Grossman said. “[He’s] big and strong [and] wins a ton of balls in the midfield, which is really huge [for us].”

While Aguirre was highly-rated coming out of high school and was expected to contribute significantly to the offense this year, Rob Dolot, a freshman from Belleville, Mich., entered Duke with lower expectations. To the surprise of even Kerr, Dolot has shined in both practices and games, taking over an open position in the midfield alongside Aguirre and starting all 15 games this season.

After Dolot scored his first career goal in Duke’s dramatic 2-2 tie with Virginia Sept. 11, Kerr applauded the midfielder’s poise under pressure.

“He’s such a composed player for such a young player and that’s what I liked about him when I was recruiting him,” Kerr said after that game. “He was a bit of a diamond in the rough. I poached him out of Michigan and brought him to this team because I thought he could hold the ball for us, and he’s actually even better than I thought he was.”

With just two games remaining in the regular season, Kerr continues to be impressed by the progress and maturity of Dolot.

“He’s just gone from strength to strength, and he’s really adapted his style to the speed of play in the ACC and he’s done great for us,” Kerr said. “He wasn’t expected to come in right away and contribute big minutes, but he’s earned those minutes and we need him.”

At just 5-foot-8, Dolot is one of the smallest players on the squad, and he consistently faces players who are significantly bigger than he is. While high school soccer is full of players his size, Dolot is one of the smallest starting midfielders in the ACC.

The third starting freshman, Sebastien Ibeagha, has been instrumental on the backline for the Blue Devils this season. Brother to senior captain Christian Ibeagha, Sebastien started alongside his brother at the center of the defense in the first game of the season, but Sebastien left that match at halftime with an injury. When he finally returned a few games later, it was his older brother who was sidelined, and Christian is now out for the remainder of the season with a fracture in his shin. The two brothers will get another chance to play off each other next year, though, as Christian redshirted and will return for a fifth year.

Luckily for Kerr, Sebastien has stayed healthy after his initial stint on the sidelines. He has teamed with sophomore Andrew Wenger, senior Nick Sih and redshirt-senior Matthew Thomas to form one of the most imposing backlines in the ACC.

“When you lose your senior captain, pretty much for the whole season, it’s pretty nice to have a super athletic brother of his to step in and do a great job,” Grossman said.

The younger Ibeagha has benefited greatly from having his older brother guiding him through his freshman year, both on and off the field. And when the elder Ibeagha isn’t giving his brother tips on opponents, he is always playing around with him—especially over who dresses the best.

“They’re like girls with clothes, sharing each other’s clothes and shoes,” Grossman said, laughing. “I think Sebastien dresses better.”

The Blue Devils (7-4-4, 1-3-2 in the ACC) take on Virginia Tech (4-10-1, 1-4-1) tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Blacksburg, Va. for their second-to-last regular season game.

Grossman minced no words when describing where the Blue Devils are at this stage of the season.

“We know what’s at stake at this point.... And to be fair, it’s not what we envisioned at this point,” he said. “But there’s no reason to feel bad for ourselves or go away and die. We just need to step up and be men about the situation.”


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