By Mike Deak
WARSAW – The turn of the athletic calendar has brought upon the usual coaching changes. But in a rare sight, the changes have been somewhat minimal in the area as less than a half dozen new head coaches will assume their roles to being the 2021-22 season.
Mark Gordon, Tippecanoe Valley girls soccer
If this name looks familiar attached to Valley soccer, it should. Gordon helped begin the Valley boys soccer program and was its first head coach. Gordon, who has a lifetime of soccer refereeing experience as well as two full years of varsity sideline duty with the Vikings, will take on his second introductory project in Akron.
“I feel more relaxed as I have been here before but in a sense I do feel more pressure as “we are going this alone”,” Gordon said. “By that I mean it is strictly the young ladies, although some played on the boys team, whereas in 2014 we started this adventure as a mix of boys and girls. It is extremely important that we show strong numbers from the beginning, especially amongst the younger age groups (freshman and sophomores) in order to build and thrive.
“We need to tap into 4-6 graders to make sure they are looking forward to playing at the middle school in the future.”
Valley is starting up the girls program after running a co-ed varsity program since 2016, and in the probationary period since 2014. The Lady Vikes are initially playing a very limited schedule with six games on the preseason list, it’s inaugural game Aug. 16 at Culver and its home opener the 25th against Wawasee.
“This happened rather quickly,” noted Gordon. “To be honest, I heard through the grapevine that there was interest. And I was proud that one of the things on my “to do” list was being taken seriously.
“So I inquired, interviewed, waited patiently, and was pleased to receive the call from Aaron (Butcher, TVHS athletic director). Without hesitation I said yes. I informed my wife at 5:30 p.m. on the way out the door that I was attending a TVS school board meeting and when she asked why, I simply stated “to see if they will approve the girls soccer program and if I get the nod!”
Scott Erba, Warsaw boys track
Speaking of names you’ve probably seen before. Erba is a mainstay in track and field in and around Warsaw Community High School, and is a big reason the Lady Tiger program has had the success it’s attained in the past two decades.
Announced on Thursday, July 22, Erba comes back to Warsaw to replace John Wesley Maierle, who stepped down last season after his (first) year with the boys program. Maierle was on staff for 2020 but did not coach due to the pandemic.
Erba’s run with the girls program stands as one of the most successful of any coach in Warsaw track history.
From 2004-16, Erba led the ultra-efficient and dominant girls team to 11 Northern Lakes Conference championships (which is currently 15 straight), 10 sectional championships (which is currently 14 straight) and was responsible for 53 straight NLC dual wins. In his run with Warsaw, he was 111-20 in dual meets, oversaw 38 broken school records, had 44 state qualifiers and coached his daughter, Ashley, to a state championship in 2012 in the 3,200 meters.
“The Lady Tiger track and field program has continued to have a lot of success since I stepped down in 2016,” Erba stated. “The current coaching staff has pushed culture and expectations to a high level. For the boys program, it has been a high school generation (4 years-plus) since they have experienced the thrill and satisfaction of taking home an NLC or sectional title. That culture of expectation, commitment, and identity needs to be dusted off and shined up moving forward. It is certainly a goal of mine to add to the incredible distant and recent history of Warsaw track and field; I believe we have the returning athletes and potential athletes walking the hallways to make this happen sooner than later.”
Erba also led the Warsaw girls cross country team for five seasons and helped both programs nearly double in numbers under his watch.
In the years since he last coached at Warsaw, he competed as a national level in triathlons, working up to All-American status while still helping out behind the scenes with the Warsaw track and cross country programs in his spare time.
“After taking five years off to pursue my own athletic adventures, I feel refreshed and approach coaching with a new perspective,” Erba said. “In the midst of our successful track and field run, I felt there was always something I could be doing better to take the program to the next level. This led to mental and physical fatigue that I simply could not overcome. One of my challenges this time will be to control that coaching “on/off” switch: be fully present and invested when it is time to coach, and being able to step away and pursue other interests at other times. In the past, this switch was often stuck in the “on” position.
“There is a lot of excitement and a bit of nervousness about trying to build another program, but I am thrilled with my coaching staff and have an abundance of confidence in our working together to bring Warsaw track and field back to the top.”
Kyle Dijkstra, NorthWood boys soccer
Kyle Dijkstra has been tasked with quite an ask, not only replacing a mainstay who helped found a program, but to keep the momentum for a program that achieved its highest level of success a year ago.
Dijkstra, who played in the NorthWood program under his dad, Egbert, and head coach Brad Duerksen, is now just the third coach in the program’s history. And Duerksen had been the manager for the last 24 years of the program’s 25-year existence, virtually creating all of the history for the Panthers.
Dijkstra was on the sideline last fall as an assistant coach when NorthWood reached the semi-state, the first time in the program’s history the team claimed a Final Four spot. Dijkstra was a goalkeeper for four years at NorthWood, winning a sectional championship, team defensive MVP three times, All-NLC, and still holds the school record for most shutouts in a season and most shutouts in a career.
“Last year was obviously a huge year for the program,” stated Dijkstra. “We did take the next step as a program by winning our first regional. It was the perfect way to wrap up Brad’s great career at NorthWood. For me personally, the biggest thing I learned was that it was possible for us to get that far. We were a penalty kick shootout away from going to state and as someone who has been in and around the program basically my whole life, I wasn’t sure if that would ever really be possible. But now we have that platform to build from as a program and it should give every kid who comes through the program confidence to know that if they put in the work and have the dedication that we had from our players last year then who knows how far we can go as a team.”
Ashley Derf, Tippecanoe Valley volleyball
Another assistant coach making the jump to varsity head coach, Derf becomes the third head coach in three years for Valley volleyball, but has been in the program for multiple years.
Derf was an assistant for both Mallory Eaton and Doug West before getting the promotion this past spring. Taking on her first varsity head coaching venture, Derf brings experience from her JV role, as well years of work with V2, the pipeline club for Tippecanoe Valley.
Having been a part of the program has helped Derf make the transition, and the girls have been receptive of their new leader.
“I think that the transition has been smooth,” Derf said. “Being part of the program for the last few years has definitely helped with the transition. The players already know me and they already know my expectations of them both on and off the court.”
There is a bit of concern within in regards to having Derf be the third head in three seasons, but having the time spent with the club team and the junior varsity is seen as an advantage in familiarity.
“Our club program V2 has been a huge part of our programs success and will continue to be a huge part of it,” Derf said. “I’ve been a part of V2 for several years now and have been the club director for a few seasons. I think becoming head coach at Valley and being the club director for V2 will be important. I usually coach our eighth grade V2 team so that will give me all club season this year to really get to know my incoming freshmen class and to prepare them for that jump into high school volleyball.”
Editor’s Note: Wawasee is still in the hiring process for its baseball head coach. Wawasee athletic director Brent Doty hopes to have that position filled near the start of school in August.