Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts women’s soccer team is a product of Jason Dowiak’s journey

The Minutewomen are 7-2-0 so far in Dowiak’s first season as coach

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The Massachusetts women’s soccer team is a product of Jason Dowiak’s journey

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Noah Bortle, Collegian Staff

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It’s the end of the Massachusetts women’s soccer team’s opening Atlantic 10 game against Duquesne. Standing calmly on the sidelines, directing the players on the pitch in fine movements as they work their way forward with the ball, is first-year head coach Jason Dowiak.

Dowiak, a New Jersey native, did not anticipate being in his current situation growing up. He grew up playing soccer and recalled how he had the same mindset as most other kids do.

“I grew up thinking soccer was going to be a part of my life in a big way,” Dowiak said. “I hoped, like a lot of young kids, to play professionally and make a living that way.”

Dowiak’s journey to standing on the Rudd Field sideline is one rooted in a love for soccer that blossomed from a kid who dreamed of playing professionally. While his time at the College of Charleston proved to be the final stop in his playing career, it also helped light a fire that would push him into the next phase of his life.

While in Charleston, Dowiak played under coach Ralph Lundy, who ranked in the Top 25 all-time career wins list to go along with the five NCAA tournament appearances to his name. But, it wasn’t the legendary coach’s accolades or tactics that stuck with a young Dowiak the most.

“[Lundy] runs soccer camps during the summer and he encouraged a lot of us to get involved during the summer,” Dowiak said. “To not just stay fit but to start to build our own understanding of the game and be around a lot of older coaches who had a lot of great experience. I took that opportunity to heart and just learned from everybody that I could.

“I was around national team coaches, some of the most successful college coaches in the country. I just tried to soak in a lot of activities and training sessions and ideas,” he added.

Now, while Dowiak stands on the sideline watching his team advance their way up the pitch, he isn’t concerned with how he got there, but watching months of work come together.

***

Last season’s leading-scorer Erin Doster plays a ball over the top of the Duke’s defense to the feet of a running Rebeca Frisk. Rather than take on the remaining defender herself, Frisk, who leads UMass with six goals, put one more pass across the middle of the box for Jenny Hipp to bury in the back of the net.

“We’re seeing those moments happen more and more,” Dowiak said. “But it’s really about a philosophy within the program and the team, that we’re here to serve each other and serve the people around us and that mentality is making it really exciting to play.”

Serving one another is an early principle that Dowiak instilled during his short time at the helm.

“We’ve definitely been playing as one team,” goalkeeper Peyton Ryan said. “One unit, we all move together as one.”

This togetherness is a preaching that Dowiak made a point to emphasize since his first day on campus. It’s a part of his coaching philosophy, which has been built by taking pieces from every stop he has made along his coaching journey, borrowing from the people he has met along the way.

“We had – coming in and all through the spring – been talking about sharing everything,” Dowiak said. “Share the ball, share your experiences with your teammates, build relationships.”

Dowiak’s most recent stop before UMass was at the University of Southern Florida, coaching under Denise Schilte-Brown and Chris Brown. He credits the duo for allowing him to be successful early on in his tenure here at UMass, teaching him better ways to communicate information with players was a skill he picked up during his time in Tampa.

“We give information in multiple different ways,” Dowiak said. “We do video work, we do on-field walkthroughs of specific moments that we want to create, we use different programs and build animations to help give a different visual to our players.

“That was something that I picked up pieces from Denise and Chris at USF but then built it into my own and we’ve expanded a lot.”

Prior to his time at USF, Dowiak learned under the tutelage of yet another legendary coach, Jim Blankenship, at Florida Gulf Coast. On top of the tactical advancements Dowiak learned while at FGCU, he also made yet another connection with a coach with high pedigree. It was his connection with Blankenship that helped land the job in USF.

Blankenship’s good word was not the first time that someone helped Dowiak along the way. The first, and most notable, will be standing in the opposing coaching box come Thursday’s game against St. Bonaventure. Bonnies head coach Steve Brdarski was one of the coaches that Dowiak befriended while coaching those summer camps during his time at the College of Charleston.

“[Brdarski] got me my first coaching job at Saint Joseph’s in Indiana,” Dowiak said. “He knew that they were looking for an assistant and called me about a week before preseason and told me, ‘they’re looking for somebody. Pretty much, the job is yours unless you really botch up the phone interview.’”

The move was initially a culture shock for Dowiak who had grown up in New Jersey and went to college in South Carolina. He described Rensselaer, Indiana as “a really small town in the middle of a bunch of cornfields.” While the move was not the most glamourous, Dowiak acknowledges that it played a vital role in getting him to the sideline at Rudd Field.

“It was a move that triggered every next opportunity that wouldn’t have happened the way it did,” he said.

A promotion to head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at St. Joseph’s, followed by becoming the head women’s coach at Anderson College, round out Dowiak’s coaching resume.

Ultimately, Dowiak believes ending up with the Minutewomen is a great fit.

He mentioned the importance of living closer to family as well as the support staff that is available at UMass will help him be successful. He speaks glowingly about Athletic Director Ryan Bamford and Senior Associate Director of Athletics Kristen Britton and how they have guided him in his first season in charge.

Dowiak was impressed with the history of the women’s soccer program at UMass. But nothing made more of a lasting impact on him than meeting with the players.

“I got to meet six of the players on my interview and we talked for almost two hours,” Dowiak said, “and we could’ve talked for four. It was just easy, it felt easy right away. I felt like I’d be hard pressed to find somewhere that fit me better that this, and it seems to be working out.”

That fit has been working out to the tune of a 7-2-0 record, currently amid a six-game winning streak. He credits his early success to his ability to gain the trust of his players.

It can be difficult for a new coach to earn their player’s trust. After all, the players had been recruited to UMass by former coach Ed Matz.

Dowiak gained his players’ trust early on by simply getting to know them. Rather than focus on the soccer last spring, he felt it was important for him to get to everyone as an individual. The soccer would be secondary.

“We spent a lot of time in the early part of the spring getting to know the individual,” Dowiak said, “and I think we’re having success right now because there is a lot of trust in house.”

As for the soccer, he says trust still plays a key role. He must trust his players to carry out his tactics and trust his coaching staff that they are making those tactics easy to digest, while his players must trust that the information they are receiving works.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much in just nine months being able to play under him,” Doster said. “He brings a lot of positivity and a lot of joy back to soccer that a lot of us lost in the past few seasons.”

One way that Dowiak teaches the Minutewomen is through the integration of technology. The Minutewomen have started using a new program this season to keep up with Dowiak’s want for more information. The players appreciate the increased data as well, as it proves that the possessive style of soccer they are playing is successful.

Dowiak can be heard from the sidelines asking for the up-to-the-minute updates on his team’s possession stats more often than he can be heard complaining to referees about missed calls.

It’s a demeanor that Dowiak admits isn’t “how he’s always been” but one that he thinks fits the role he’s in.

“Your demeanor is often a reflection of how your team feels and produces on the field,” Dowiak said, “and if we as a staff are overly excited or overly nervous that’s going to trickle down to the team and I think we do a nice job of managing our emotions on the field and on the sideline, and it’s easier when you’re winning,” Dowiak said with a smile.

Though Dowiak has taken a long and winding path to end up in Amherst, his journey with UMass is just beginning.

“Since working with Jason, the program has just done a complete 360, how hard we work every day in practice and in the weight room,” Frisk said, “and I think it’s just going to go up from here.”

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.

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