Through the first half of the season, the Virginia women’s soccer team has featured one of the top defensive units nationally. A NCAA best 0.213 goals against average, along with seven shutouts in the first nine games of the year, are the statistics that support that fact.
Most of the attention for that success is directed towards goalkeeper Chantel Jones, along with defenders Kika Toulouse, Maggie Kistner, Morgan Stith, Amanda Fancher and Emily Carrollo. However, what most people don’t see is the role assistant coach Kerry Dziczkaniec has had with regards to the Cavaliers’ defensive prowess. Her tireless work, especially with the goalkeepers, has been an integral part of the team’s strong play on the field.
“What I try to convey to the team is bringing a mentality of what their role is,” said Dziczkaniec. “It’s really to bring a mentality about the game, and their role within the team, so that they’re doing everything that they can to be their best for their team. That’s really been the priority for me, to help bring that sort of mentality and discipline to their job.”
In the third year of her second tenure on the Virginia staff, the coach commonly known as “Kerry D” prefers to stay out of the spotlight. But for those in the program, her impact is unmistakable.
“She is probably the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Jones, who leads ACC goalkeepers in save percentage, GAA and shutouts. “She’s so easy to work with, she’ll do anything for you. She puts 100 percent into your development. I’ve gotten so much better in just the short time that she’s been here. I wish I’d had her my whole life, I could have been amazing!”
Dziczkaniec returned to Charlottesville in 2008 for her second stint on the Cavalier staff. Her coaching career began in 1994 at UVa when she was hired by Lauren Gregg. She later spent time as an assistant coach at Florida State and Maryland before coming the head coach at Vermont for four seasons.
“It hasn’t been an adjustment at all [coming back as an assistant], because coaches coach because they love the game,” she said. “I certainly have a love for the game of soccer, but also for working with people that are committed to the game like you are and want nothing but the best. Players that want to reach their potential not only individually, but collectively as a team, too. So the transition was a simple one. It was great to come back here and to work for a great coach in Steve [Swanson], because his eye is always on helping the players reach their potential. I think what is special about that is that if you can help players accomplish that, then winning and success becomes a product of that day-in and day-out work.”
The players she works with are aware of her background and are aware of the opportunity they have to learn from her experiences, both as a player and a coach.
“Her personality and her experience [are her greatest assets as a coach],” said Jones. “She’s has seen so much in her career. She’s been at three different ACC schools, and she’s been a head coach. It’s so rare to have someone who has been a head coach as your goalkeeping coach. She just knows so much. And she was a great goalie herself. She has a lot of information to give to me and to [other goalkeepers] Carrie [Wisman], Danielle [DeLisle] and Churchill [O’Connell].”
Through the years, Dziczkaniec has seen many things in her coaching and playing career. In the sport of soccer, players need to ready for any situation on the field. This is particularly the case for goalkeepers, something she stresses to Virginia’s goalkeeping corps.
“Our keepers are just always prepared, for anything,” she said. “And so, in the course of a training session, they’re going to get a variety of things that they need to deal with. What’s different about this year, is that we’ve taken a pride in our fitness which creates the discipline necessary to stay calm under pressure. If we’re going to win a championship, there’s going to be times when things are crazy; lots of pressure, down a goal, or two goals. That’s when they have to be composed and be able to calm their teammates around them; to say, ‘Guys, look, let’s bring the energy in a way that’s going to help us move forward and get past this team, get back in the game.’ That can only come from a fitness and strength physically that translates into your mental capacity.”
For Jones, she has seen the dividends from learning the mental side of the game from Kerry D. It is something she admits she hasn’t handled as well as she could have in the past.
“The biggest thing Kerry D. has worked with me on is my emotions and my composure,” said Jones. “When I first came here, I had grown up watching Briana Scurry, keepers who were the ‘angry goalie’. That’s who I was. I thrived on that. But Kerry D. toned me down, taught me to relax and it has helped me a lot with my teammates, getting their respect, and even making saves.
“She teaches the importance that positioning has as well,” Jones continues. “If your positioning is good, then you’ll make any save. With the defenders, it’s just ‘be composed.’ If you’re composed, you’ll make better decisions, you’ll be more calm, and that attitude will make you that much tougher on the field.”
A positive attitude is an attribute of great teams that Dziczkaniec tries to instill on the program every day.
“The biggest thing to success, and I know this is going to sound very cheesy or silly, but it’s enjoying the game,” said Dzieczkaniec. “It is enjoying each other in that process. You don’t come to the University of Virginia to go to school and play the game unless you really do have a passion for academics and soccer. You have to enjoy it, otherwise you are not going to be willing to work harder than others. When I look at the players and coaches in our program, I see that passion, and that makes every day enjoyable for me.”