GODFREY — Alton's Brett Baldridge and Shane Bollini are friends on and off the pitch, so they are stoked to stay together in college.
The Redbird soccer players inked letters of intent to continue their careers at McKendree University in Lebanon on Tuesday at AHS and secured the opportunity to remain teammates.
“Being on a team obviously you are going to meet like 20 kids right off the bat and make a lot of friends, but knowing (Brett) we are probably going to room together and everything, so it's nice,” said Bollini, who will continue his goaltending duties with the Bearcats.
Baldridge, a midfielder, added, “We've been making this decision for awhile. I contacted the McKendree coach, John VanBuskirk, and I went and saw them play and decided it was the place for me. Then (Bollini) was looking at two schools and we decided that McKendree would be the best for both of us.”
Bollini had previous experience with VanBuskirk from Scott Gallagher which helped sway his decision.
“I love McKendree. I've seen their school a couple of times and I used to play for John VanBuskirk with Gallagher, so there's a familiarity there,” Bollini said. “It's close to home too, so it's a good day.
“It helps knowing the coach and I know a couple other players who are already there. Kevin Cheatham who used to play for (Alton) is going to go there next year, so I'll know him and a couple players from Gallagher.”
Alton head coach Jay Robertson is excited to see two of his players move onto the next level. Baldridge and Bollini were key contributors from an 11-7-3 Redbird team in '14, which unfortunately was bounced from the Class 3A playoffs in a 1-0 loss to Quincy in their first game.
“Anytime the kids can move onto the next level from here, it's a great time,” Robertson said. “Both of these guys are hard workers. We had a really good season this year and these guys were big contributors to that. As student athletes both of them do very well in the classroom. They're just very good kids, good people and they will do very well at the next level.”
Bollini logged 1,556 minutes in goal this past season, making 81 saves and posting a .794 save percentage and a 1.08 goals against average. Robertson believes he is still progressing as a goalie, something he thought was very evident during the 2014 season for AHS.
“Shane has made great strides and by the end of the year this year I think he became one of the better goalies in southern Illinois,” Robertson said. “He's got very good size and reads situations well and I think he's going to continue to grow as he moves forward.”
Bollini knows staying at the top of his game in the net means a lot of hard work, but he thinks he's up to the task.
“I just need to keep working hard,” he said. “I need to workout more and go to more goalie trainings and everything. As people get older they will obviously get bigger, but it's always been like that. Being a freshman in high school, some of the seniors you are going up against are pretty intimidating. I'm kind of starting that process over again, but I'm ready for it.”
As for Baldridge, he's a versatile player. Playing primarily in the midfield, Baldridge also has experience as a striker and as a defenseman. He compiled one goal and two assists for the Redbirds in '14 for a total of four points.
Robertson thinks his overall skill set makes him a coveted player at the collegiate level that can be used in multiple situations for McKendree.
“He's played many roles for us,” Robertson said. “He's played on the outside. He's played a little in the back, but mainly in the midfield on the outside mid, but he's played some in the middle as well. He's a versatile kid. He's got good size at 6-foot-1 and he sees the field well and also he's just another good skill kid to have on the field. He could do some other things. He has some offensive capabilities as well, which is why we liked to use him in the midfield and push him forward. I could see him progressing into that role as a college player as well.”
Baldridge said defensive play at club level soccer has helped make him kind of a jack-of-all-trade of sorts and he thinks that will help his development for the Division II Bearcats.
“I think I'm going to be playing more as a midfield player, but I can play anywhere,” Baldridge said. “I've played defense for my club team at some points and I've played forward whenever we needed. I feel like midfield is my best position and coach will see that. It's a lot of running.
“As an athlete I feel like I'm not very selfish. I'm willing to get the ball up and let other people play and I feel that's a lot of what comes along with being part of a team. It's not all about you.”
McKendree, which was 5-10-2 overall and 5-9-1 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference last season is getting two local players with upside and gets to keep them close to home, which they both like.
Bollini thinks they learned plenty from Robertson and the Redbirds, which can help them excel at the next level, too. He will miss that time in Alton.
“I learned a lot of good lessons (at Alton), like how to work on a team well and responding with teammates,” Bollini said. “I'll miss a lot of my friends (with the Redbirds), but Brett's moving onto McKendree and I'm going to know some people there, but I'm going to miss a lot of my friends.”
Bollini looks to major in accounting, while Baldridge will be a business major at McKendree.