Logan Aukes – Staff Writer
Clouds cover the sun. Wind rattles what’s left of the leaves. Breath rises from the faces of the Dordt men’s soccer team during a game in late October 2018.
The team finds itself matched up against cross-county rival Northwestern College—a team it hasn’t beaten since 2014. The game is over before it even begins.
Jogging to the stands, the players offer a thank you clap to what’s left of the fans. There isn’t much to clap for.
The scoreboard stands tall over the southwest corner of the field flashing “Northwestern – 6, Dordt – 0.” It serves as a reminder of the team’s dying playoff hopes and marks a season that saw the program finish six wins, ten losses, and one tie—far removed from teams of old that won 14, 15, and even 17 games.
They quietly walk into the postgame huddle.
“That was an embarrassment,” says captain Patrick Munsey to his teammates.
Looking back at Munsey are a few head nods and a handful of glazed-over eyes. There is nothing to say. No one to look to.
Assistant Coach Ryan Gresse stands outside the huddle. Watching. Waiting.
It’s 6am on a Monday, almost a year later.
The men’s soccer team has already begun their day while the rest of campus sleeps.
The weight room lights shine bright over the sound of slamming weights and teammates talking. It smells of fresh rubber and sweat.
Now head coach Ryan Gresse walks in with a cup of coffee and a smile following his team’s 5-0 rout of Viterbo College in the opening game of their 2019 season.
He is a fresh two weeks into his first regular season as the program’s third head coach in three years and the man responsible for turning it around.
At 27 years old, some may question whether he is the right man for the job, but he already has plenty of coaching experience on his résumé. He spent 2016 and 2017 as head coach of Indian Lake High School men’s soccer program in Ohio.
During those seasons, he remembers commuting over an hour to his primary job at a Honda dealership. He was always up at 5 a.m. and rarely in bed before midnight. He only saw his wife on the weekends, and his friends questioned his decision to pursue coaching.
But it’s starting to pay off.
“If I’ve learned one thing through it all, it’s that discipline and relationships are the most important things,” says Gresse. These are the kind of lessons he is hoping to bring to a Dordt program many believe has underachieved thanks to uncontrolled egos—a concern Gresse addressed last offseason by instituting a leadership council.
The council is comprised of a small group of players that represent the team’s core values. They are responsible for keeping the team focused during practice and organizing events for players to bond off the field.
Gresse envisions building not just a team but a brotherhood. A brotherhood that leaves its pride at the door and is ready to go to war against whichever team steps on the other side of the field. With this kind of fighter’s mentality, returning captain Patrick Munsey believes anything is possible—and it certainly looked that way against Viterbo.
The Defenders dominated from the opening whistle with a goal in the 3rd minute from Munsey.
Not to be outdone, Gideon DeGraaf connected on a diving header in the 14th minute to put the Defenders up 2-0. The V-Hawks could only muster 2 red cards in response to three more Defender goals.
Despite early success, Gresse is taking things slowly. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s going to take some patience,” he says.
However, thanks to Gresse, Munsey senses a newfound optimism surging through the team. “One of our last coaches was great at developing relationships. The other had an extensive soccer knowledge. Gresse is both,” says Munsey.
But Gresse does more than just command respect; he earns it. He spends hours watching game film, attends every team activity, and frequently pulls players aside to see how they are doing. The additional effort comes naturally, though, because he knows the foundation of the program’s future rests on the development of those already in it.
Will Gresse and his team’s offseason efforts and early victory result in a successful season? Only time will tell.