The turn-around continues at Central
|Central College women's head coach Mike Kobylinski
Central Athletics photo
By Brennan Casey
Central College Sports Information
Mike Kobylinski knew a turnaround was possible because he had been a part of one. The man who helped reverse the fortunes of the Central College men’s soccer program as a player was confident he could do the same for the Central women’s team as a coach.
He proceeded to take a team that was a combined 6-46-1 in its previous three seasons and go 45-23-9 in four years at the helm. The Dutch have won at least 10 games in each of Kobylinski’s first four seasons, including a record-setting 2014 season that featured a second place finish in the Iowa Conference standings and a trip to the conference tournament championship game.
Kobylinski, a 2003 Central graduate, always wanted to come back to his alma mater, he just needed to find the right time to do it.
“The women’s position had opened up before the previous coach took it and I didn’t feel like at that time I was ready to make that move,” said Kobylinski. “I had just got hired in Illinois as a club director, so I wanted to see that through for a few years. When the job opened up again in 2011, I just felt that the timing was right. I always knew the pieces were here, the facilities were here and the people were here. It was just a matter of getting the consistency and the commitment with the staff and the confidence and the talent.”
During his playing days at Central the Kalamazoo, Mich. native earned all-conference honors four times, including first-team honors as a senior in 2002. Central men’s soccer head coach Garry Laidlaw knew early on Kobylinski could have a future in coaching.
|Central men's coach Garry Laidlaw with women's coach Mike Kobylinski
Central Athletics photo
“I’ve seen him from day one as a leader and as a winner,” said Laidlaw. “He had an uncanny ability to get the best out of his teammates, which led him to be a captain as early as his junior year. He just knew when they needed a pat on the back and when they needed the other. For a player to have that you could kind of see the future was definitely there for him in coaching.”
Laidlaw thought Kobylinski was a perfect fit for the women’s head coaching position.
“I told the search committee, ‘I don’t know about the other candidates, but I know this guy and if you want to turn this program around, this is the guy for the job,’” said Laidlaw. “I don’t think they’ve regretted that decision to hire him on.”
The Dutch won 10 games and advanced to the conference tournament in Kobylinski’s first season. The eight-win improvement from 2010 to 2011 was the fourth best turnaround in Division III.
Central followed with a 12-6-2 performance in 2012, tying the school record for season wins and posting back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.
“We talked about maintaining expectations,” said Kobylinski. “No longer were we a team that snuck up on people. I think winning 12 games the year after winning 10 proved that we could maintain a high level.”
The Dutch qualified for the conference tournament again in 2012, defeating Simpson 2-1 before falling to Loras in the tournament semifinals. The accomplishments of the second-year Central coach did not go unnoticed as he was selected as a tri-winner of the conference coach of the year award.
Kobylinski took on another role in the Central soccer program in 2012, becoming an assistant on the men’s team for his former coach, Laidlaw.
“It’s the best of both worlds because I think not a lot of people have my setup,” said Kobylinski. “I greatly enjoy being a part of both programs.”
Kobylinski said he has learned countless things from Laidlaw while both playing for him, and being a part of his coaching staff.
“I can’t say enough about how much Garry has taught me,” said Kobylinski. “First and foremost I’m a player’s coach. I learned that from Garry. I think trust is key, especially in the women’s game. If you don’t have their trust, you are not going to win games.”
Kobylinski also credits time spent coaching with Adam Howarth at Eastern Illinois for two years in helping him develop.
In 2013 the Central women again went 12-6-2, led by senior Alayna Bailey, who scored 19 goals. Bailey was Central’s first conference offensive MVP and also the first Dutch women’s player to earn all-region honors.
The turnaround Kobylinski has overseen as coach for the Central women’s team is similar to the one he played a role in as a player for Central men’s team from 1999-2002.
“We won five games my first year and then the year I graduated we won 16 in a row,” said Kobylinski. “To be a part of that turning point with Garry and then do the same thing on the women’s side, it has been remarkable.”
“(Being a part of the men’s turnaround) made him a better player and a better leader,” said Laidlaw.
Both the men’s and women’s programs are benefitting from major upgrades to Central’s soccer game field. Hillside stadium seating was added to the Kuyper Athletic complex field and future plans include an entry plaza, covered seating and stadium lights.
“I think our intimate setting at the Central field is outstanding,” said Kobylinski. “Then we have two practice fields that are brilliant, beautiful playing surfaces and we also get to train on (artificial) turf. No doubt our facilities help us get players. With our Under Armour agreement, too, it’s nice to see the Under Armour gear out there. All that plays a part.”
Kobylinski acknowledges the challenges of recruiting, and says his athletes play a role in speaking about the program.
“Our team does a lot of peer-to-peer recruiting,” said Kobylinski. “Our players really speak about the program, and I don’t say sell the program, because I think it sells itself. You get on campus and you see everything and you want to be a part of it. That’s been huge for our recruiting success.”
The theme of the 2014 season for the women’s team was defense. Central set team records for winning percentage (.684), shutouts (12), consecutive shutouts (four), fewest goals allowed (12) and fewest shots allowed (11.7 per game). The Dutch advanced to their-first ever conference tournament championship game, playing to a scoreless draw with Dubuque before the Spartans advanced to the NCAA tournament in the ninth round of penalty kicks. Five Central players landed on the all-conference team and Kobylinski was tabbed as the conference’s coach of the year.
“This year we were literally one kick from going to the NCAAs,” said Kobylinski. “You cannot get any closer than that. We have a taste and we know what we want to do. I do think the NCAAs, if we maintain what we do, are in our future. If that’s the near future or the far future, who knows. We know we have the talent and we have the players to make it. First thing is first, it would be nice to win a league title and it would be nice to win the conference tournament. Nothing is a given, our conference is so tough.”
Kobylinski keeps the focus of the program on what lies ahead.
“We have to be careful not to talk about the year prior too much,” said Kobylinski. “This is a new year, and last year isn’t going to win us any games this year. Another Central coach used to say that and he was highly successful. I love that quote because it is so true. Each year is different and different challenges present themselves.”