Dilanni grows dynasty at GV, wins 200th game
A single standard soccer game takes a little more than 90 minutes to complete. That’s 5,400 seconds. And during an 11-year tenure, Grand Valley State University women’s soccer coach Dave Dilanni hasn’t wasted one.
In February 2003, Dilanni was hired as Laker coach and has since guided GVSU to eight straight GLIAC titles, 10 consecutive NCAA Division II tournament berths, six final four appearances, runner-up finishes and a pair of national championships.
“We kind of started our own little arms race, if you will, where we’re (GVSU) the leaders out front and it’s tough to stay there,” said GVSU associate athletic director Keri Becker. “It’s one thing to claw and grind and get yourself to the top, but to stay there, I think you have to reinvent yourself to create situations that continue to separate you from the rest of the pack.”
Dilanni has coached All-Americans, both athletic and academic, record breakers and undefeated teams. His squads have outscored opponents an astronomical 812-107, have posted 163 shutouts—an average of 15 per season—and have continually evolved year-by-year under Dilanni’s tutelage.
What makes GVSU’s program truly special, though, cannot be quantified by numbers alone.
“What makes this program—what might be a little different from other programs—is that Dave always pushes the idea that this team is a family,” senior tri-captain Sam Decker said. “We’re not just teammates, we’re not just there for each other for two hours during practice. We love one another, we play for one another and (that) makes us successful together.”
Handed a seeding, four-year old program in need of an identity, Dilanni provided one. And like blades of grass carefully manicured across GVSU’s now storied home field, Dilanni grew season after winning season into a dynasty.
“I think everybody has aspirations and goals that they have in mind for their job, their career and the people that they’re involved with and work with, but a lot of it had to do with the support Grand Valley gave us,” Dilanni said. “Early on, we weren’t fully funded, but now we are. Our facilities have made huge strides, our school has grown both academically and cosmetically, and I think there are a lot of things that helped accelerate those goals—to win championships, to be successful in the classroom, on the field and as a person.”
On Sept. 20 in a 2-0 victory against Ashland, Dilanni collected his 200th victory to go with a win percentage (.887) that is the highest among all active Division II coaches and third across all divisions. The second passed with little ado. “I had an idea we might be somewhere close (to 200 wins) just from the last couple of years, but at the time, I had no idea until a parent said something to me the weekend after,” Dilanni said.“To me, it’s an example of the message that is sent out and relayed to our kids and the commitment level not only of our current, but former players and staff have put into our program striving for our goals. It’s really less about me as it is a message that there’s been a great deal of consistency all the way across the board to create those wins.”
Grass doesn’t grow overnight. It takes energy and commitment to keep it green. And time. Yet to reflect upon Dilanni’s numerous accomplishments, crowned by a 205-18-8 record as GVSU coach that screams ‘consistent excellence,’ it’s fair to fair to wonder if Dilanni has perhaps discovered some sort of elusive formula for a perennial power miracle grow.
“The goals stem from day-to-day,” Decker said. “The goals stack up, but Dave is very much focused on this practice, the day ahead of us, the first game this week and then we can start focusing on the second game. We’re very disciplined to think about things we can do right now to help us in the near future. No second wasted.”
Yet with (seemingly) little left that hasn’t already been accomplished, there’s no rush. Like Forrest Gump mowing Alabama’s practice field as a hobbyist, for Dilanni, the practice itself takes precedence; the art of growing the grass, of growing a soccer team, prioritized over any accolade that might be reamed from the process.
“For me, it’s about the process,” Dilanni said. “The day-to-day experience with the student-athletes, getting to know them outside of soccer, working on them having the understanding that they need to be competitive, both on the field and off the field, having that interaction, keeping expectations high and doing things right. The end results are the championships and the wins, but for me, and I think our kids will tell you, that I’ll coach them the same whether we’re winning a game or losing, whether it’s a tight game or a blowout, whether it’s a practice or a game.”
Time has been good to Dilanni, but it isn’t up yet. For him and the undefeated, unrelenting and un-scored-upon GVSU soccer program (8-01), win 200 is merely that—a win.
For Dilanni and GVSU soccer, it’s always a good time, a good day, a good second, to grow.
“We want to improve everyday, to stay hungry and competitive to lear,” he said. “If we can do that and continue to get better as a team, I think we’ll be there, where we need to be, in the end. We just have to stay focused on the everyday.”