Consistency is now the name of the game for FD boys

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Head coach Tom Daniel (third from right) stands with his Fort Dodge team before a home game in the Dodger gym.

I’ll let you in on a secret: most coaches struggle to find joy, or even a level of satisfaction, in the time they devote to their sport.

Sure, there are moments of happiness and fulfillment when an athlete’s hard work comes to fruition or a team secures a championship at the end of a season. By and large, though, coaches are stressed after wins and even more stressed after losses.

They worry. They prepare. They grind. Relentlessly.

Victory brings a sense of relief, then it’s on to the next one. Defeat stokes insecurity and intense analysis of strategies, personnel and preparation.

They love the game itself, but even the best struggle to crack a smile until all is said and done — and it’s rarely all said and done.

Tom Daniel is a prime example. For the last decade, Fort Dodge’s boys basketball coach has been driven to create a culture of stability and consistency in the Dodger boys camp. Daniel’s staff rolled up their sleeves and focused on carving out their own niche in the ultra-competitive CIML, despite long odds and an unforgiving schedule.

Daniel would say his program is nowhere near where he wants it to be. Fort Dodge hasn’t been to state since 2006 — three seasons before his arrival — and the school’s last conference championship came in that same season.

Still, the Dodgers have quietly become very steady under Daniel’s direction. Currently 10-7 overall, Fort Dodge is attempting to complete back-to-back winning campaigns for the first time in 29 years. The program is 23-16 since the start of last season, and they’ve won at least 10 games on four different occasions since 2013-14 alone.

A 53-53 cumulative record during the five most recent years may not stand out much on paper, but consider other schools similar to FDSH’s size in the CIML over that same period of time: Urbandale (54-57), Mason City (35-72), Ottumwa (28-78) and Marshalltown (16-90), to name a few.

This past week, Daniel moved into second place on the program’s career win charts, ahead of Connie Goodman and behind only Dutch Huseman — both Hall of Famers. At 10 seasons, Daniel is also the third-longest tenured Dodger coach behind only Huseman (15) and Goodman (12).

Daniel spends long nights — spilling into early mornings — watching film and studying tendencies of his opponents. He agonizes over losses and celebrates wins only briefly before moving forward. He truly believes his players — many of whom have gone on to play at the next level — and assistants are the reason for the Dodgers’ success, and he’ll openly shoulder the blame for mistakes or shortcomings.

I’m sure Daniel will sheepishly shrug off this compliment while saying, as he did after last Friday’s game, ”we’d trade in all of the wins and everything else for a chance to go to state.” That may be true, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a step back for a moment and admiring the program’s recent body of work. Fort Dodge may not be at a championship level, but the Dodgers’ ascension shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Sometimes, even in the middle of the chaos that accompanies a season, a coach deserves credit where credit is due.

A NEW ERA: One of my first ”beats” as a part-time Messenger sports writer in high school was covering the Fort Dodge boys swim program during the 1994-95 campaign.

If memory serves, I saw every Dodger home meet that season. The main storyline was the presence of senior standout Mike Brown, who set school records in both the 200 and 500 freestyles.

Brown completely dominated his two main events from start to finish that season, capturing district championships and medaling in both at state. Given his name had held steady on the school’s record board for nearly 23 years, I didn’t anticipate anyone challenging those times in 2018.

And then Andrew Fierke came along.

The senior had been every bit as good as Brown, going unbeaten in the 500 with some of the best performances in the state. He was on an entirely different level at Saturday’s district meet, though, leaving Brown’s times — as well as defending state champion Dylan Moffatt of Cedar Falls — in his wake.

Fierke is the latest underdog Dodger swim story to come down the pike. We’ve seen it with Rob and Gretta Leigh, Lehr Thorson and Mitch Emery — to name a few — since 2015.

All flirted with state gold. Fierke might be the one to finally bring a title back to FDSH for the first time since 1991.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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