Isabel Pheifer — Staff Writer
As the final buzzer blared in the DeWitt Gymnasium on Nov. 25, the Dordt University Men’s Basketball team’s win over Oak Hills Christian was not the only victory. The 145-62 triumph also signified the 500th career win for head coach Brian Van Haaften.
In Van Haaften’s very first game as a coach, his team lost by 15 points to a team that was 0-5. Van Haaften drifted off the court disappointed. All he hoped was for his team to win one game. The thought of winning 100 games seemed like quite the stretch. But after one win trickled in, the river of triumph never stopped flowing.
200. It came during 2004-2005, in just his ninth year of being a head coach. 300. Five years later, he added another hundred in his 407th career game. 400. On Nov. 25 and in his 22nd season of coaching, he earned the feat. 500. Exactly four years later to the day, Van Haaften secured 500 career wins, an accomplishment only 10 active coaches in the NAIA have achieved.
Van Haaften, or “VH,” came to Dordt in 2018 after serving as head coach of the Buena Vista Chargers since 1996. In his time there, he put together one of the best active winning percentages in NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball history. His career record was 414-188, with a career winning percentage of .687. He coached his teams to nine regular season conference titles and nine NCAA Division III National Tournament appearances.
“I just always wanted to see if I could do it somewhere else,” Van Haaften said. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys that just rode off into the sunset.”
Planning to retire in 10 years, Van Haaften had no intention of moving and switching schools. But deep down, he “always wanted another challenge but never thought it would come.” Then the head men’s basketball coaching position at Dordt opened up. By what Van Haaften described as pure luck, this job opportunity fell into his lap.
“When coach Van Haaften was hired … I believed he was fully equipped to lead young men well, promote the Defender Way, and coach competitive teams,” Dordt Director of Athletics Ross Douma said.
Now in his fourth year at Dordt, Van Haaften has continued his streak of producing winning seasons. He has whipped up a 79-41 record, and his .658 winning percentage is the best on record at Dordt.
Van Haaften cannot recall a time when being a coach was not his dream. When he was in junior high, Van Haaften would often tune into radio broadcasts of Chicago Cubs baseball games. As he listened, he would try to manage the game, thinking carefully about each move made as the game progressed.
As his athletic experiences continued, so did his desire to coach. Playing basketball at Pella Christian High School, he wanted to be the next Pella Christian coach. When he continued his basketball career at the collegiate level at Northwestern College, he wanted to be the next coach there as well.
“God has closed every other door for me,” Van Haaften said. “This has really been the only thing that has shown its face to me for my whole life.”
While Van Haaften has been showered with praise for his recent accomplishment, he made it clear all of his achievements have not come alone. He credited much of his consistency and success to his knowledgeable assistant coaches and coachable players that have been a part of his career. He believes he is “really lucky” to have been at institutions in a “really good stretch” of skilled players.
At Buena Vista, he coached over 50 players that earned AII-IIAC accolades, including multiple league’s Most Valuable Players and a few Defensive Players of the year. At Dordt, VH has coached players receiving All-GPAC honors eight times, with many others receiving honorable mentions.
“Coach’s wisdom and experience has broadened my perspective on the game,” junior guard Bryce Coppock said. “I feel really blessed that I can say I played for him and was a part of his 500th win.”
When VH walked into the locker room after winning 500, he was met with an eruption of sound and excitement. Water was thrown high into the air like confetti. White jerseys moved like a tidal wave as every player surrounded Van Haaften with jumps and shouts of acclamation. As the water dripped off Van Haaften’s head and onto one of his signature blue suit jackets, assistant coach Kyle Lindbergh embraced him in a hug. His daughter, who joined the team on the bench for the night, stood in the back with a proud smile gleaming across her face.
“I got a little emotional about it [winning number 500],” Van Haaften said. “But ultimately, it’s in my rearview mirror now because I am hoping for more than that.”
Photo credit: Dordt University Athletics