Setting the foundation: New soccer coach Jeremy Groves looks to build future juggernaut
Multiple Mid-American Conference championships, a top-25 ranking and the ability to recruit with almost anybody.
That is the vision first-year coach Jeremy Groves has for the Central Michigan soccer team.
He's setting the groundwork for a future that could see the Chippewas as the premier soccer program in the conference.
However, with hefty goals come a difficult challenge, one that could take years to develop to fruition.
Everything in the confines of the plan takes time, effort and patience. Luckily for Groves, he's been through that multiple times in the past.
Groves, a Leeds, England native, eventually found his way to Kentucky. During his time as a player in Lexington, the Wildcats celebrated two SEC championships. The 2003 team he was part of advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to the eventual champions, Indiana, in double overtime.
Following his playing career, Groves made assistant coaching stops at Kentucky and Morehead State before taking over for Murray State as its head coach in 2014. Almost instantly, Groves’ Murray State squad improved, a team that posted a below .500 win percentage in 2013, a year before Groves.
The Racers finished 11-9 in his first year in charge. In Groves' second year, the team managed an even bigger jump, finishing 16-5 with a regular season conference championship. Groves was named Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year.
From 2015-2017, no team was more dominant in the OVC.
The Racers went unbeaten in conference play (25-0-5) during that time, Groves picked up a second OVC Coach of the Year award, and the team won three consecutive regular season conference championships and two conference tournament championships.
Groves left Murray State with 50-21-6 overall record and a 32-3-5 OVC record.
His new goal is to build that same program here at CMU and achieve just as much success. That is no easy task, especially in year one.
Groves knows this.
“First we’ve got to be competitive,” Groves said. "In terms of style of play and stuff like that probably in the first year it’s not gonna be aesthetically pleasing and nice and beautiful game and stuff like that. We’ve just got to figure out how to win, the more we win the more people are gonna look at the program as recruits.”
As far as replacing Lexi Pelafas, the program's all-time leading goal scorer, Groves is focused on the future.
”I never coached her, I didn’t see her," Groves said. "I saw her a little bit on film. For me, I don’t buy into that stuff. It’s not about one person. Our goals are going to come from lots of different people this season. It’s up to us obviously to coach the players around, who play in those areas to get better and score goals and I think we‘ll do that.”
By this point in his career, he has a process, a model to follow that, in theory, should lead the Chippewas to conference championships. As Athletic Director Michael Alford, the man who hired Groves, so often puts it – “Diplomas in one hand and championship rings in the other.”
“When we first started there was barely anybody there,” Groves said about his days at Murray State. "The more we built it and the better we got, at one point I think we were 21st in RPI in the country, which for a school of that size is unbelievable. More people wanted to come and watch us and be a part of what we were building.”
Groves also compared the route for success to the Central Michigan women’s basketball team.
“They get backsides on seats because they’re competitive and they beat people and they make long runs and that's kind of what we want," he said.
One person who has seen this process first hand is Allen Ward, the athletic director at Abilene Christian University.
Ward held the same position at Murray State during Groves time there. He believes that recruiting and developing players is part of what sets Groves apart from others in the country.
“Jeremy is a top-notch recruiter and excellent coach,” Ward said. “He recruited very well and developed his talent into championship-caliber student-athletes.”
While many coaches and athletic departments like to claim that, Murray State has historical records to back that claim up. During Groves time at Murray State, he recruited Harriet Withers, the only player to be named OVC Offensive Player of the Year three times. In total, 14 players were named to All-OVC teams during his four years.
Many who worked with Groves at Murray State believe he is a great coach who can develop well rounded successful student-athletes. Not just on the field but academically, too. Among them is Bob Davies, former Murray State president and the current president at Central Michigan.
“I had the pleasure of working with Coach Groves at Murray State,” Davies said. “I was impressed then by his ability to coach his student-athletes to success on the pitch and in the classroom, and I see that same great work from Coach Groves here at CMU. His goals have always been both to win championships and to support his student-athletes as they pursue academic excellence and degree completion.”
Even with all the work still to be done, the easy-going coach believes that CMU's program can replicate the success he had at Murray State.
“Hopefully, our players have egos and as coaches, I think we have egos, too,” Groves said. “I don’t want to go anywhere to be mediocre. You know we want to build something like we did at Murray, where we didn’t lose a game for three years in conference and we win every season and kind of have that target on our back.”
Despite the “ego," Groves consistently turns the conversation about the program or himself towards his players. Groves believes he has the pieces to build around moving forward.
Perhaps that unselfishness is what sets Groves apart and allows him to lead his teams to such great heights.
“He’s genuine, trustworthy and knows the game as well as anyone I’ve been around,” Ward said. “The student-athletes see that immediately and love to play for him. His kids believed in him, enjoyed playing for him, and the success is still ongoing. No complaints, no selfishness, everyone played their role.
"He has the championships to back it up. No complaints, no selfishness.”