MILLEDGEVILLE — It has been a long, grueling process to build a program virtually from scratch in the last four years, taking teams that struggled to win ball games to making appearances in the semi-final matches at the conference tournament last fall.
Georgia Military College head soccer coach Kerem Daser was recognized for his efforts by winning South Region Coach of the Year honors for junior colleges in January at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America annual convention held in Philadelphia, Pa.
Daser started four years ago with a thin roster, but recent success for both the men and women has generated much interest from coaches and players around the country.
“When I first got here, I’ll never forget during the pre-season we really didn’t have enough players,” he said. “I actually called Georgia Perimeter College and they had a tryout, and sent Rene [Enang] over here.
“It’s a funny story, because he was the captain his second year and had the game-winning goal to beat Georgia Perimeter his sophomore year — the first time we’d beaten them and they were a top-five team in the country,” Daser added. “So, I really didn’t have enough kids my first year, but I recently did an ID camp and had about 20 kids show up. I think it’s taken four years to really get over that hump.”
With almost 20 years of coaching experience at a variety of levels, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I ranks, Daser believes the coaching award reflects the players and people who have mentored him throughout the years.
“It’s a player’s game, so I’d really like to respect the players,” the nationally recognized coach said. “When you win an award like that, it’s also the coaching staff too — you know, Courtney Morgan is my assistant for men and women. She’s a tireless team player, hard worker, and a super administrator. I think the award really goes back to my assistant.
“You’re only as good as the people you work for, and the head coach at Old Dominion, Alan Dawson that I coached with at Methodist College was a big influence on me when I started coaching in 1995,” he added. “Then I went to UNC-Chapel Hill with Elmar Bolowich, who went on to win a national championship and earn national coach of the year for Division I, so I learned a lot. And then of course Brett Teach, my biggest mentor — I was his assistant for three years and he was national coach of the year too. So, when you win an award like that you pay your respect to the players because it’s a team game, but also the coaches that you worked for in the past.”
The elite-level coaching has paid off for the Bulldogs soccer program, as the men and women earned numerous conference and regional honors following their record breaking season that saw the men finish with a 13-5 overall record, while the women were 6-12-2.
Sophomore Tomide Adabale, who earned the school’s first all-region award in his first year, snagged a spot on the All-South Region Second Team for his performance in the fall.
“I think Tomide kind of got us on the map,” Daser said. “I think Rene was the first one to make All-Conference, but it’s nice to see a kid make first team All-Conference and then also be a region All-American. He’s a local kid from Atlanta that’s scored lots of goals — I think 36 goals in two years — and there’s a lot of college coaches after him at four-year schools. He’s set the standard.”
Adding to the list of awards the soccer teams received were numerous All-Conference selections.
Earning first team All-Conference for the men were Omari Walker and Adabale; Teemu Vaarakallio and Damieon Thomas both earned second team honors.
On the women’s side, Kallie Balfour received a first team selection, while Jona Olafsdottir earned a spot on the All-Conference second team.
“Kallie Balfour really set the standard,” Daser said. “I believe she’s only the second player—I think we’ve only had one other player receive that award.”
Local players, Taylor Dell, Maggie Morris and Nathan Thompson also received awards following the season.
Dell and Morris joined Linda Rodriguez and Thomas on the All-Conference Tournament Team, while Thompson earned the Bulldogs’ most improved award for his freshman season.
“Taylor Dell, I’d like to give a shout out to him because he was our captain and a very hard working kid. He was a great captain and I’m proud of him for making the all-tournament team,” Daser said. “Maggie Morris is a local kid who worked very hard and was a great leader. She’s a product of Milledgeville.
“With the team awards, it was nice to see Nathan Thompson earn an award, because he’s another hard working kid from the local community.”
Though, 2013 proved to be a strong season for the GMC soccer teams, Daser believes the Bulldogs have big goals in 2014.
“You know, when you take a program that never won in 11 or 12 years, I think it was exciting,” he said. “It was an uphill climb, but the kids showed a lot of character. Every year we’ve gotten better and better, and gotten higher-level players. I’m thinking next year we had nine freshmen that started, so we’ve got a chance to be in the top 20.”