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Giving Coaches What They Need to Succeed
By Doug Harris
All athletic programs rely upon the quality of their facilities to attract top talent and compete on a national level. At the University of Dayton, donors like Bill and Margie Klesse are leading the way in these endeavors.
Before the start of last year's preseason practice, Dayton women's soccer coach Mike Tucker sat down with second-year athletic director Neil Sullivan, who posed a question any coach loves to hear:
"What do you need from us to help you be successful?"
It's the same query Sullivan's predecessors, Tim Wabler and Ted Kissell, made to their coaches each offseason, and the athletic directors would never initiate that discussion unless they planned to do their best to fulfill the requests.
"The way I view it as a coach is you've got administrators that care about your program," Tucker said. "They're giving us every opportunity they can for us coaches to succeed."
Tucker's wish list had been shrinking each year, with the last significant item delivered in September 2016: The men's and women's soccer teams are benefiting from a long-needed upgrade to their practice facility adjacent to Raymond L. Fitz Hall.
The project was funded by a leadership-level gift from Margie '68 and Bill '68 Klesse and completes a cycle of investment in soccer during the last several years, including the renovation of Baujan Field and new offices, locker rooms and meeting spaces.
"We want to be thought of as a national powerhouse soccer program. This gives us that opportunity," Tucker said as he surveyed the construction earlier this year.
The Margie and Bill Klesse Soccer Complex will include a stylish entrance, newly sodded fields for both the men's and women's teams, covered bench shields and seating for protection from the elements, and branded wind screens with signage on the existing fencing to increase privacy and decrease traffic noise.
The squads will also be getting new goals, additional storage and a patch of artificial turf between the two fields for specialized training.
"We're extremely excited about this," men's coach Dennis Currier said. "From a recruiting standpoint, we've got another incredible facility to show recruits. We couldn't be more thankful to the Klesses for such an amazing gift to the soccer program."
Margie, who earned her degree in chemistry, and Bill, a former captain of the Flyer men's soccer team and chemical engineering graduate, will attend a dedication and blessing for the facility in April 2017.
"Margie and I are very pleased to be able to help the men's and women's soccer programs," Bill said. "Hopefully, the improved facilities will contribute to a continuing successful program where our players excel."
Sullivan knows the impact the gift will have on players. "Margie and Bill were intensely focused on serving the students, and, outside of the classroom, there is no place students spend more time than on the practice field," he said. "Their commitment to the student experience is as strong as any donor I've encountered, and we're honored they decided to invest in University of Dayton students and our soccer programs."
Sullivan added, "We're committed to competing for conference championships and competing in the NCAA tournament. The infrastructure and investment in our soccer programs reflect that commitment. Baujan Field is among the best in the country, but we needed to invest in the soccer practice and training fields for the benefit of our students.
"We've made some small, incremental improvements over the years, but the space truly needed to be transformed to meet the standards for this level of college soccer, and this gift is transformational for our students."
Both programs have been thriving under stellar coaching. Currier has a 113-67-34 record in 10 years with the Flyers and led them to their first NCAA tournament win last season. Tucker, who recently retired after 22 seasons as head coach, had more than 300 career victories and guided teams to 10 NCAA tourney berths, including one trip to the Sweet 16.
Having an appealing practice facility can only help the cause.
"We have so many great facilities here at Dayton," said Flyer men's senior goalkeeper Justin Saliba. "Having a place to practice like this is going to really take the program to the next level."
Though the Klesse contribution is among the largest ever received by University athletics, other former soccer players have made donations through the years, and Currier understands why.
"What we've learned is they love the experience they have as student-athletes — not just athletically, but also attending school — and love the community feel," he said. "They feel a very big attachment, and they want to give back.
"We're fortunate. The other schools I was at were nothing like this. It's a blessing to have kids who come through here, fall in love with the school and everything it offers."
All University of Dayton teams have access to a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility on campus as well as a top-notch athletic-training center. And every sport has received a facility upgrade in the last several years.
The athletic directors have certainly been listening to all of their coaches and, thanks to the support of donors like the Klesses, it shows.