DiIanni dynasty ends with B1G departure

GVL / Archive

GVL / Archive

Adam Knorr

Grand Valley State University women’s soccer coach Dave DiIanni paced back and forth, speaking sharply to his team. His players stood at rapt attention and listened keenly with intent to learn, fixated upon their decorated coach.

Then, the tone changed in a split second with raucous laughter. DiIanni found himself looking up at his team, the intense mood long gone. A soccer net interrupted his monologue and trapped DiIanni around the ankles, bringing him crashing to the turf. Just like that, the entire team was relaxed.

Former GVSU standout Kayla Addison recalls that story fondly. Addison describes DiIanni, who recently accepted the head coaching position at the University of Iowa, as a “goofy” coach whose antics and attitude often led to a relaxed and comfortable vibe on the field.

That vibe certainly translated into a whole lot of wins for the GVSU program.

As DiIanni’s name has become synonymous with success in the last 11 years, his coaching style has become lauded. A teacher before a coach, DiIanni always worked to improve the character and integrity of his players before fine-tuning their dribbling and passing abilities — and it’s hard to say which he did better.

After accepting the job at GVSU in 2003, DiIanni quickly climbed the ranks and became one of the top NCAA Division II women’s soccer coaches in the nation. During his 11 years at the helm, he racked up an otherworldly 221-18-18 record and a .895 winning percentage — the top mark in Division II history.

Under his direction, GVSU won three national championships (2009, 2010, 2013), garnered seven NCAA Final Four appearances and took home nine consecutive GLIAC titles from 2005-2013.

Defense was often the calling card of DiIanni’s squads. The Lakers amassed 175 shutouts in 257 games under his direction. The 2013 campaign, DiIanni’s last, was especially impressive. The Lakers managed to post 21 straight shutouts en route to a 24-0-1 record and a national championship.

Combine the mass of achievements with the time he spent in the Allendale community and it becomes apparent that his decision was anything but easy.

When he committed to taking the job with the Hawkeyes, the school year had wrapped up at GVSU and most of his former team had already headed home for the summer. DiIanni emailed his team, explained the situation and spent the day calling each player individually to talk them through his decision.

What was it about the Iowa job that so enticed the former Laker coach?

“(The job) appealed to me because of the similarities to GVSU,” he said. “It was an administration that looked outside the box, they didn’t recycle people they’d had before. They were looking for both a teacher of the game and a teacher of life. The community is great, especially for raising a family at a crucial time.

“Thank you to the school and the community for the 11 years that they gave our family.”

In the wake of his departure, DiIanni leaves behind a program with an abundance of talent and the infrastructure to experience continued success for years to come. This is not the first time GVSU has lost an established coach — nor will it be the last.

“We’re very proud of Dave’s performance and what he did to contribute to the building of our program,” said GVSU Director of Athletics Tim Selgo. “We’re very appreciative of what he did and we’re confident that the program he takes over at Iowa will be successful.”

DiIanni replaces Ron Rainey at the University of Iowa, which, under Rainey’s command, finished with a 15-7-1 (5-5-1 Big Ten) record last season. Meanwhile, in Allendale, filling DiIanni’s shoes will be a tall order, but a search committee is already on the case with hopes to appoint a new hire at the end of June.

“One of the most important things is finding a teacher, someone who can really teach the game,” Selgo said.

DiIanni taught the philosophy to hundreds of players in his time at GVSU, and — in addition to the team’s success — the strength of GVSU’s program is reflected in the numerous individual achievements earned by his players.

Five players earned Daktronics, Inc. All-American honors last season, the last of 29 players to garner the award under DiIanni. He also coached 19 NSCAA All-Americans — including two NSCAA Player of the Year award winners (Irie Dennis in 2009 and Jenna Wenglinski in 2010).

He was a coach who seemed to give his players every opportunity to flourish. Addison, for example, will be playing for FC Indiana of the WPSL Elite League this summer after capping off an impressive two-sport career in Allendale.

As she moves on to Indiana and DiIanni moves on to Iowa, GVSU begins its journey forward. It has been more than a decade since the last coaching change, but the talented Lakers will likely have what it takes to protect their title when the season begins at home against Quincy University on Sep. 5.

The defending champs won’t be forgetting their goofy coach anytime soon, but they’ll certainly be ready to create more memories — perhaps with another national crown — no matter who is standing on the sideline in 2014.

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