Expect the unexpected.
Is there any other phrase which better sums up college/university life?
Students come in with an expectation of how things will go, not only from an athletic standpoint, but in academics and social life there are expectations based on previous, sometimes very limited experiences.
And then reality hits.
Things don’t go as planned.
Other players who were recruited as part of your team may pass you on the depth chart. Calculus proves to be a more difficult than you ever imagined. Finding the right group to run with socially may prove to be challenging.
At the end of it all will you be able to say your college career was a good one?
Shortly after post-season honors were announced for soccer and Mika deVin was named honorable mention and the normal social media notices went out noting this.
And Mika put on his Twitter account “Proud to play for Dordt” in response.
And that made me pause.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned for Mika and his team.
Tough finishes to seasons.
Not always playing as much as he’d like.
More losses than wins for his career.
But still, “Proud to play for Dordt”
So that’s where our conversation started, and here’s the harvest from that question.
I recently tweeted, “Proud to play for Dordt.”
From someone on the outside, this might seem like a strange thing to share based on how our season went or even really how the last four seasons have gone. So why did I make this tweet?
On August 14, 2016 my family and I had arrived at Dordt College after a long three days of driving from British Columbia, Canada. Not only was I simply excited to be done driving, but I was also thrilled to be so close to starting my first preseason as a Dordt College soccer player. I had expectations of how things were going to go, how much playing time I was going to get, and even how hard it was going to be to pass the 2-mile time.
With all of these great expectations, deep down was really nervous about how life was going to be at Dordt, being so far from home. One of the first things I noticed about the character of the boys on the soccer team, was how welcoming they were. My freshman year I was playing with guys like Cody Van Holland, Alex Durbin and Kalenga Njamba. These guys were talented and I really looked up to them.
What was special about this time of preseason, was how welcoming these seniors were to us freshman. The seniors had their “cool” apartment in Kuyper where they lived and each day they invited us over to hang out with them and spent time getting to know us. This was my first realization that something was different here at Dordt and the first reason I tweeted I was proud to play for Dordt.
Freshman year continued on and life was pretty good. I had begun to feel at home here at Dordt and was playing pretty well on the soccer pitch. My freshman year I was what you would call a “swing” player. I played on both the junior varsity team as well as the varsity team. When the JV team needed me to play for them, I did, when the varsity team had a game, I would suit up. I enjoyed this and really saw a lot of growth in my confidence throughout my freshman year. If I were to tell anyone about how college soccer is different from anything in high school, I would say that the speed of play is way faster and the physicality is way higher.
You really have to know what you are going to do with the ball before you even get it. Having confidence in my own ability was where I grew the most in my freshman year.
Having confidence in my own ability was where I grew the most in my freshman year.
Most people would agree with me that your college years fly by. Freshman year was complete and it was time for Sophomore year to begin. This was my second year in the program under Coach Stiemsma and I was coming off of a really good spring season with the team.
I felt confident.
Sophomore year challenged me to work hard. I mentioned that I was coming off of a really good spring season and found myself in a top spot for starting in the midfield. I felt good and thought I had this spot in the bag.
Isn’t it funny how God often works? When you think you have everything figured out and you start to get overly confident, He lets you know who’s in charge. This is exactly what happened for me. In preseason, I began to get complacent, playing well but not putting in enough effort to deserve what I thought I did. With good coaches around me, they recognized this as I began to get frustrated with not getting the playing time that I wanted or not being a starter.
Our assistant coach at the time, Henry Murray, made sure he grew a good relationship with me and began to change my mindset on the season. I remember specifically that after a practice, he came up to me and said he wanted to talk. He had noticed my frustration with playing time and how this was affecting the way I acted and really how I played. He worked with me to recognize how I was right in thinking that I had the skills and abilities to start for the team, that the coaches had even thought I was going to be a starter, but how they saw other guys on the team working harder in each practice and game for that playing time.
This hits hard.
When you hear from someone who you can trust, it really makes a big difference in the way that you think about things. It was time for me to change my approach to soccer and I really worked on putting in all my effort each and every practice. I can say that I continued this on throughout the rest of my seasons at Dordt.
This is the second reason I wrote that tweet, the soccer team, the guys on it as well as the coaches, they demand excellence and they demand hard work. I was proud to play on a team that made this a priority.
The soccer team, the guys on it as well as the coaches, they demand excellence and they demand hard work. I was proud to play on a team that made this a priority.
Here’s where things begin to get complicated, or even rather interesting and it doesn’t stop here.
Junior year has arrived.
The following two seasons found us finishing 8th in the GPAC and making the conference tournament where we had to travel to Hastings College and lost in both years. If you know anything about GPAC soccer, it’s that Hastings is the team to beat, at this point, they had gone 16 consecutive years being conference champs. They even won the National title in 2016.
What I’m trying to say here, is that for the past two years, we had found ourselves ending our season with little to no chance of advancing.
My junior year began with a new coach, Bill Elgersma as well as all new assistant coaches. Unlike the past two seasons, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard things about coach Elgersma, I had even seen him coach before as he was also the Women’s soccer team coach for the past two seasons would be both the men’s and women’s coach for this coming season. I knew things were going to be tough, but this was the way I liked it.
What can I say about Junior year?
Well, this was the year that I had really lost sight of what soccer really is all about.
If you look at the stats, really this was my most “successful” season, scoring 5 goals and having the third most points on the team.
Here’s another stat for you, I had six yellow cards, the team’s highest.
I would say that if you know me in the slightest, you would say that this would be rather odd for what my normal character is like. Six yellow cards must have meant that something was going wrong. Having the chance to talk with Bill Elgersma at the end of the season was where I was really able to see what led to the way that I played.
Coach Elgersma shared with me that he saw great areas in my playing this year, that I had the skills and abilities like I had heard before, but what he shared with me next was the most important thing.
He said that he saw how easily frustrated I became with the game.
He knew how I got the yellow cards, he was the one of the sidelines giving me an ear full for them, so I really took this to heart.
What took this to the next level, was a conversation I then had with my Dad. I talk with my Dad often about how life is going and how soccer is.
I look up to my Dad in the soccer world and really recognize how much he has done to lead me to where I am now.
In this conversation, my Dad shared with me that he saw my love for the game disappear.
My Dad knows me and he knows how much this game of soccer means to me, I mean he’s been on the sidelines watching me play for over 16 years. If anyone could share this with me, I was glad it was from my Dad.
Junior year at Dordt helped me realize that soccer is to be loved, to be enjoyed and to be done to glorify God.
This may seem weird for me to say, but I tweeted I was proud to play for Dordt, because it allowed for me to love the game of soccer again.
I mentioned earlier that the story gets complicated.
Here it is.
Senior year has arrived and it’s my last season of competitive soccer.
I am excited.
What’s different about this year, is that the Dordt Men’s Soccer team has a new head coach, Ryan Gresse. I got to know Ryan throughout the spring of my Junior year and I love the guy, but a third head coach in four seasons, is this really what’s best?
Simple answer, yes.
To describe Gresse in a couple of words would be tough but I will say Ryan is the right guy at the right time for the program.
Someone with different ideas, a soccer IQ that’s through the roof, young, energized and most importantly, someone who serves God with His whole heart.
When Dordt appointed Gresse to be their head coach, they knew who they were getting and what a good decision it was.
Again, you might be asking about how this idea of being proud to play for Dordt really is true when for my senior year record was 3-12-3. We had only three wins and they came within the first five games of the season.
Here’s my fourth reason for sharing my tweet.
When you think about success, especially in sports, we often think about records, goals scored, games won, conference standings, all things that can be measured statistically.
What if I told you that my senior year was actually one of the most successful seasons for the Dordt Men’s Soccer program?
You might think I am a little crazy, but I believe I can speak for all the boys on the team, that the strides we made as a program are something to be proud of.
Coach Gresse and Coach Mac (Andrew McMillan) implemented a culture focused on the Defender Way. Through the thick and thin of the season, our culture grew stronger, our team became closer and really, we became a “Brotherhood”.
My final season made me proud to play for Dordt, because of the relationships I built, because of the love I received, because of the challenges I faced and finally, because of Christ’s work in each one of the boys on the team.
Now four reasons for being proud to play for Dordt might seem little and I would agree with you, there are so many more reasons behind why I am proud to play for Dordt and why so many other Defender athletes are too, but these are a part of my story. On August 14, 2016, I had expectations, but I would have never been able to come up how things were truly going to go, how much playing time I was truly going to get, or even truly how hard it was going to be to pass the 2-mile time.
I am excited to see where the men’s soccer program goes from here. I know things can be tough, look at my story, but I also know that I will always be proud to have played for Dordt.