Three fellow Ambrosians helped Davenport Assumption High School girls soccer head coach Rob Eckert ’07 lead his team to a third straight Iowa Class 1A state championship earlier this month.
Three was a bit of theme for Lady Knights athletics this year. The soccer three-peat on June 8 followed a Class 3A state track and field team championship on May 18, which followed a third straight Class 3A state basketball championship for the Assumption girls on March 18.
“For a lot of these girls, that’s three state championships within 100 days,” Eckert said.
Some of these Lady Knights, meanwhile, have played roles in all seven team state championships since 2011. And if you include individual titles won at state track meets? Well, the numbers get crazy.
"Maddie Irmen has been part of 12 state championships," Eckert said of a junior all-state soccer forward who also is the daughter of Megan Irmen, an administrative assistant in the St. Ambrose Academic Advising Office. “A junior with 12 state championships? It might be a national record.”
For Eckert and assistant coaches Chad Rhoades ’07 and Jon Dreasler ’09, '11 MBA, it was their third year coaching the Lady Knights soccer crew to a state championship. Current SAU junior Nick Helling, Eckert’s brother-in-law, has assisted with two of those state titles.
“It makes it even more enjoyable having them there,” Eckert said of sharing his success with fellow Ambrosians. “When I graduated from St. Ambrose, the days of showing up everyday to play with my friends kind of ended. When Chad joined us as an Assumption coach in 2010, it brought back the glory days a little bit because it allowed us to be on the pitch together again.”
Eckert was a St. Ambrose sophomore when he agreed to help former SAU graduate assistant Craig Shaw coach the Lady Knights in 2005. Shaw accepted a college coaching position when the season ended, and Eckert took over as head coach the next spring after playing for then SAU Men's Soccer Coach Rev. Bud Grant in the fall.
As a coach, he said he utilized lessons he learned from Fr. Grant.
“He made it more than soccer and that is how I try to coach,” Eckert said. “Make it not about the sport, but about the kids. All aspects of the kids’ lives. School, soccer, family, friends. And fun. Have fun.”
Fr. Grant said Eckert showed the makings of a fine soccer coach from the first moment he saw him. "As a freshman, he came onto a very talented team and you’d never know he was just a first semester freshman," Fr. Grant said. "He had a vision of the game from the get-go. He was certainly a leader on the team all four years.’’
Eckert didn’t get Lady Knights soccer into gear right away. But he said the program gained momentum when Rhoades joined his coaching staff and they were able to convince members of the basketball team who hadn’t previously played soccer to join them on the pitch.
“We kind of used basketball as a base,” he said. “The defensive play is similar and we used the girls' understanding of basketball to teach them the sport of soccer.”
More than a few players came with extensive experience in youth and club soccer, including Irmen and fellow all-staters, seniors Danielle Moore and Sydney Lunardi. And then there is Rose Ripslinger, a junior forward who already has committed to play soccer at Iowa and is a three-time Gatorade Iowa Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“Their talent level athletically is amazing,” Eckert said of his entire roster. “But they are also academic all-staters. So they are not just amazing athletes. They are great kids.”
Three members of the soccer state champions, Allie Daniel, Morgan Pavlich and Kristin Ketelaar, will enroll at St. Ambrose in the fall.