When Cal State Dominguez Hills goalkeeper Derby Carillo left for Division 1 St. John’s the job was up for grabs this year.
Daily Breeze 2004 Player of the Year Miguel Benitez of Gardena transferred over from Loyola Marymount where the former Bishop Montgomery High star played five games in three seasons and CSUDH never missed a beat. Now Cal State Dominguez Hills leaves Tuesday for Tampa, Fla., and a place in the Division II final four.
The Toros will host a pep rally on campus at 11:30 a.m. Monday ahead of their Friday game against Tampa.
Benitez chatted via e-mail:
Question: You came over from Loyola Marymount in search of playing time – and you got it. How has the experience of playing with the Toros been compared to the Lions?
Answer: It has been great. The time I spent with the Lions was a good learning experience for me, but I always lacked that game experience that I needed in order to get better and bring my game up. There was always something that kept me out of the line up at LMU, whether it was the coaches, injuries, or whatever. I needed the opportunity to get out on the pitch and get better. The Toros have given me just that. I feel that all the game experience that I have received here with the Toros has made me a much better goalkeeper, and honestly, I feel that I’m at the best I have ever been in my college career.
Goals actually haunt me now, whether it’s in games or even at practice because I feel that I have gotten to a level now where I can make a save on every shot.
Q: Coach Flanagan called you a “difference maker” in your last game over Midwestern State where you made six saves. How was the game from your perspective? How does that game stack up from both a personal and team point of view with others you have played?
A: The Midwestern game was an incredible game. They had the best two central midfielders that I have seen all year, they were dangerous on the ball and moved it around well. The first half, I feel that we struggled a bit to find a rhythm offensively, but as soon as the second half came, we found it and together with the great support we got off the bench from Scott Mariano and Jordan Rover, we found the back of the net. The last 10 minutes though were honestly the longest 10 minutes I have ever played through.
Midwestern State was playing for their season so they were doing their best to outwork us and dump in as many balls as they could to try and get something. I knew that I was going to have to really stay on my toes mentally and physically, to both organize the team and make saves to keep us in it. But in the end, we really held it together and even though we gave up a goal in the last five minutes, I feel we all put a really great effort in to hold on to the win.
Q: You said in the CSUDH media guide that your goal was to win a national championship. You are now one game away from playing for the national title. Are you surprised that you came over from LMU and are promptly in the Final Four?
A: When I first came to Dominguez Hills last spring to talk to Joe Flanagan about becoming a Toro, I told him that I was tired of losing. I came here to win games. So to me it’s no surprise to me that we’re in the Final Four. At the beginning of the year when we first got together as a team for a pre-game dinner all the players sat together and established what our goals as a team were. We made it clear that we are here to win a championship, and now we’re only two games away, we are where we are suppose to be.
Q: Do you know much about your opponents on Friday? Who are their main threats? What are you going to have to watch closely for?
A: We haven’t really discussed them much as team yet in practice. Usually when we come up against a team we haven’t seen or played before, we focus on the one thing we can control, us. If we go and play our game I feel we’ll be fine. One thing I am worried about is playing Tampa at Tampa. It’s always tough playing on the road but in this case I feel it will be especially hard because of the importance of this game, it’s a national semifinal and Tampa is playing at home.
Q: Can the team win a national title? What’s the mood of the team going into the weekend?
Answer: I definitely feel we can win a national title. Ever since our first game in playoffs, we started counting down the games to the title. Now, there are only two games left until we have that title. All we have to do as a team is get out there and play the way we know how, outwork our opponents, and most importantly finish our chances. Personally, I’m going to have to stay focused throughout both games so that I can come up big when I have to. I’ve had a couple of big saves this year in big games so I just have to keep doing what I have been doing and yell and scream to organize the team and be there to make those big saves when I have to. There’s a huge buzz going around in our team right now, we all know what’s at stake, but we’re confident that we can go to Tampa and bring back an NCAA national title to Dominguez Hills.