Coach’s close-up: Dave DiIanni

GVL Archive / Taylor Raymond
Girls head soccer coach Dave DiIanni tells players what to focus on before their scrimmage during practice.

GVL Archive / Taylor Raymond Girls head soccer coach Dave DiIanni tells players what to focus on before their scrimmage during practice.

Kevin VanAntwerpen

His teams have been among the most successful in the country, and he is regarded as one of the nation’s best coaches in Division II. But for Grand Valley State University women’s soccer head coach Dave DiIanni, it is not the glamour or the glory that makes the job worthwhile.

It’s the people.

“If you ask any coach at Grand Valley, it’s the people,” he said. “Not just the coaches or the players. It’s the administration. It’s the financial aid individuals. It’s the admissions people. It’s the people at Grand Valley that make Grand Valley and make it a pleasure to be at.”

The respect DiIanni has for GVSU has not gone unnoticed by the administration. DiIanni said as his list of successes grew longer, the administration’s support of the soccer program began to increase in the form of scholarships, budgets and facilities, creating the ideal environment for success.

“Now we have no excuse not to be successful,” he said.

DiIanni’s love of the people is not limited to the administrative professionals who help support the soccer program. Despite being one of only two males among 28 women soccer players and the team’s management, DiIanni said it is not difficult for him to make an emotional connection with his team.

“That’s my personality,” he said. “I have two of my own daughters, but I feel like I have 28 more daughters that I want to see successful and that I care about.”

Senior midfielder Kristen Eible said DiIanni’s sense of humor – which includes teasing the girls for watching the television series “24” – helps provide a cohesive team environment.

“He knows when to be serious and he knows when to have fun,” Eible said. “He creates an atmosphere that the team just loves to be in.”

But DiIanni said he aims for more than just a friendly relationship with his girls. Instead, he wants to be a guiding light to help them through their college years. He does what he can to support his players – anything from getting them academic assistance to writing letters of recommendation after graduation.

“In recruiting, we talk a lot about how the parents are entrusting us with their daughters,” DiIanni said. “We’re with them nine months out of the year – more than their families. We’ve got to be entrusted to want the best for them and to help them make decisions … I want to be there for my players, to be someone they can come to in good times and in bad.”

DiIanni’s relationship with his team, however, does not require sacrificing coaching technique. Since 2006, the team has not finished a season with more than one loss.

“He pushes us beyond our capabilities and sets high expectations for all of us,” said junior midfielder Erin Mruz. “And he teaches the fundamental and tactical aspects of soccer so much better than any other coach. I think that’s why for the past four years we haven’t been an up and down team. We’ve been consistently strong and competitive.”

While his team may consider him to be a primary factor in its success, DiIanni is quick to shift the spotlight away from himself.

“I may be the figurehead,” he said. “But I have a fantastic staff – Erica Demers, Scott Modisher and Shannon Neely – who have been important and instrumental to our success. And our student athletes have been second to none. “

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