As the final seconds ticked off the clock last week in the Wilmington College women’s soccer team’s 1-0 decision over Muskingum, a conspiracy quickly unfolded as several seniors grabbed the iconic orange Gatorade bucket and moved in the direction of head coach Steve Spirk.
The victory not only marked a late-season win over an Ohio Athletic Conference rival, but it was Spirk’s 300th victory as the Fightin’ Quakers’ head coach. It marked a significant milestone for both the coach and program that have been part of conference championships, NCAA tournaments and prominence in NCAA Division III soccer.
The 300th win evoked memories of players, matches, training sessions and all that has gone into building one of the most solid small college programs in Ohio since he took over as head coach in 1992.
“300 wins means that I have had some great players and people along the way that motivated me to want to keep doing what I love year after year,” said Spirk, who now boasts a 300-156-39 record on his resume at his alma mater.
Indeed, that resume also features Spirk as a player on four of men’s soccer coach Bud Lewis’ Fightin’ Quaker teams of the late 1970s and early ’80s. He is a four-time NAIA All-America player and still holds WC’s career records for goals, assists and points. He is a member of the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame and, in 1996, was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame.
His women’s teams have won championships — and he was named Coach-of-the-Year — in three conferences – the Association of Mideast Colleges, Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and Ohio Athletic Conference. They played in six NCAA tournaments and three times advanced to the round of 16. The United Soccer Coaches Association, this fall, presented Spirk’s 2017 team with the latest of the program’s 14 Team Academic Awards.
Spirk said he makes a special point to ensure his student-athletes don’t take for granted the opportunity to play intercollegiate athletics.
“I always try to help new players coming in understand that your time at Wilmington College will go quickly and what you do with it can last you a lifetime — mine did,” he said.
The 300th win also evoked memories of his previous coaching milestones.
“When I look back on my 100th win, it makes me laugh, because it was against the University of Dayton J.V. team coached by my high school coach,” he recalled. “He wanted to play the game as a scrimmage, but I wanted the victory.
“Win number 200 was versus Cedarville College away on Sept. 8, 2007, a convincing 3-0 victory, and, of course, number 300 against Muskingum at home with my family and this year’s team was extra special.”
The milestone win elicited a showering of congratulatory calls, notes and messages from women’s alumni, former WC teammates and friends.
“It is very satisfying to hear from them and see what they are doing now in their lives — seeing their families growing makes me very proud,” he said, adding that this week he even heard from the parent of an All-American who played at WC 21 years ago.
While Spirk has a ways to go to reach Lewis’ 500 wins over 43 seasons, his 300 victories in 26 years and the associated memories are motivating factors that fuel the fire burning in this competitive coach’s belly.
“After every season I rededicate myself to recruiting and developing our current team as soccer players, students and people,” he said. “I better get busy if I am ever to catch Bud Lewis and his 500-plus level.”