Sam Ekstrom – Staff Writer
When Ross Douma accepted the position of Dordt men’s basketball coach, the goals presented were simple.
“Be very competitive in the GPAC and creep back into the national scene,” Douma was told by then-athletic director Rick Vander Berg.
Five years later, the demands have been met – and exceeded.
The Defenders have won 10 or more conference games in each of Douma’s five years. They’ve appeared in three consecutive GPAC Championship games and two straight national tournament Elite Eights.
But the biggest accomplishment isn’t something that can be quantified in numbers.
Dordt College has built a winning culture that has the program squarely on the NAIA’s radar.
The credit can be assigned to several sources—Douma, of course, being a prominent one. The fifth-year head coach has developed a mantra that demands the most out of his players.
“It’s important for us to be as good as we can spiritually, academically, socially and athletically every single day,” said Douma. “If you’re coming to Dordt to play basketball and you want a hands-off experience, it’s probably not going to be a good thing.”
Sports information director Mike Byker, who has broadcast nearly every game in Douma’s tenure, sees the coach’s high expectations on display quite frequently.
“Coach is instrumental as well in not accepting a poor effort,” said Byker. “If you don’t give an effort, that’s not good, and he does not accept that.”
Douma also benefited from having a highly motivated group of freshmen in his first year on the job. Among them were the likes of Trevor Wolterstorff, Jordan Vogel and Chris Sievers—all eventual thousand-point scorers.
You might say that Douma hit the jackpot with his inaugural recruiting class.
“The things that they put into the DNA of our program are going to be there for quite some time: the manner in which we practice, the expectations that we have, how we act off the floor, the striving for excellence in the classroom,” Douma said.
With the initial success of Douma’s early teams came a spike in attendance and enthusiasm. The DeWitt Gymnasium crowd quickly turned from a polite northwest Iowa congregation to a raucous 1,500-fan noise machine.
Athletic director Glenn Bouma, hired the same year as Coach Douma, has witnessed the transformation as well.
“We use the balcony seating every home basketball game, and in the past it was once or twice a season,” said Bouma.
The electric atmosphere coupled with the team’s success became a huge selling point during recruiting—something Douma excels at.
“Coach Douma is a natural recruiter,” said Bouma. “He has an ability to connect with prospective student athletes and their parents and interest them enough to make a campus visit.”
It is a common practice for recruits to come watch a game in person during the recruitment process. For any high school student, the energy within DeWitt Gymnasium may often seal the deal on their college choice.
“What basketball player doesn’t want to come and play in front of a full gym and an active gym?” said Byker. “That’s a no-brainer.”
There was some question heading into this season about how Dordt would fare after losing the standouts that came from Douma’s first recruiting class. However, the impact of last year’s seniors created “long-lasting ripple effects” that have endured onto this year’s team.
The current group is enjoying a top-five national ranking and sits first in the GPAC; benefiting from the seeds that were sown with the previous generation.
“We have a new group of seniors in Austin [Katje] and Kyle [Lindbergh] who were able to witness those things, but they don’t want it to end either,” said Douma. “They feel a sense of pride in terms of continuing.”
Five years into the job, Douma has successfully built a program based on “the relentless pursuit of excellence.”
And for the third straight season, Dordt fans get to call their team a title contender.