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Commentary: DiIanni proves himself in year one

BY JORDAN HANSEN | NOVEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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As the sunlight slowly faded in the western sky on the Sunday evening of Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Wisconsin, so did its chances to cap off an encouraging season under first-year head coach Dave DiIanni with a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Normally jovial, DiIanni had a heavy-hearted look on his face after the game, a look that is reserved for a man who saw a dream crumble.

Despite the obvious sadness about the ending of the season, some of the first words out of his mouth were how proud he was of his team for overcoming the adversity it faced throughout the season.

That adversity mostly took the shape of numerous season-ending injuries, including one to first-team All-Big Ten defender Melanie Pickert in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

However, DiIanni, in his usual manner, did not blame the team’s loss on injuries or bad luck, but on the fact that Iowa’s opponent outplayed his team.

It was typical of how he has treated the season and the reason that he will be a resoundingly successful hiring for years to come.

There is never any blame in his rhetoric, only the hope that the team will keep improving. He had to completely reconfigure the team in two days during the tournament, and Iowa damn near beat a fringe top-10 Wisconsin team in the process.

No matter what coach or which sport is being discussed, that is impressive. Sure, it helped Iowa had excellent seasons from three of the best players in program history (Pickert, forward Cloe Lacasse, and goalkeeper Hannah Clark) playing for him, but he was able to maximize their talents and let them showcase just how good they could be.

In fact, he changed parts of formations at the beginning of the season, and while the team took a bit to adjust, once it did, it started looking as cohesive as any team that it faced.

It’s important to note that at the beginning of the season, Iowa was picked to finish near the back of the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes had a brand-new coach who was very successful at Division-II Grand Valley State, but no one was buying the Hawkeyes returning to the Big Ten championship, much less the NCAA Tournament.

After a loss to a bad Iowa State team in Ames, it looked like those who voted in the poll were correct in their assumption that the Hawkeyes would have a steep learning curve.

Yet, that was not what happened. Iowa did not crumble under the pressure. The Hawks did not bow their heads and expect another season of losing — which, in fact, is what the program was known for until former head coach Ron Rainey started to turn that perception around. DiIanni has continued that.

Iowa kept playing solid soccer and started off the season 3-0 in conference play. A rough middle stretch in which the Hawkeyes lost several games they should have won did not shake the team.

Why?

Because DiIanni was leading the team, and that was not something he would allow to happen.

No, the Hawkeyes did not get the storybook ending that their efforts deserved, but they did find themselves a true leader in the process.

DiIanni is the future of the program. If his first year is any indication, one day soon it will be the Hawkeyes turn to hold up trophies.

Follow @JordyHansen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa soccer team.


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