The Swanton girls soccer team will be under new direction this season as the program turns to a former player to lead them into the future.
Kendra Gustafson, a 2011 Swanton graduate, was officially hired in May. The soon to be 28-year-old replaces former coach Jim Dickman.
Although it may have taken school officials some time to get around to selecting a new coach because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they apparently saw something in Gustafson they couldn’t pass up.
“It didn’t seem real at first,” said Gustafson on her reaction to getting the news. “Because I didn’t really think that I would be getting it. I heard rumors that there was some teachers that applied. I didn’t know how that works when it comes to teachers. I guess I was just expecting the worst so I wasn’t so disappointed.”
Perhaps more surprising, she was hired after just one interview — despite being initially told there would be a second round of interviews for finalists. Gustafson got the call informing her she was hired mere days after interviewing.
“It was pretty quick. I was surprised that they didn’t even do a second interview,” she said.
Gustafson brings college playing experience to the Bulldog program, having spent two years at Owens Community College. She accumulated 32 goals and 12 assists throughout her Owens career.
She was second on the team in scoring her freshman year, then led the squad as a sophomore.
Gustafson also experienced much success during her time as a Bulldog. She was named first team all-district as a sophomore, junior, and senior. She was also honorable mention All-Ohio as a senior.
“I think I bring a lot of knowledge and passion for the sport,” said Gustafson on what she adds to the Swanton program. “I have a lot of experience. I was only strictly forward, but I feel that playing in college you learn a lot about all the positions and the way the game’s played.”
Her initial plan was to transfer and play at Tiffin University for her remaining years of school; however, not all her credits transferred over from Owens, so she nixed that idea.
From there, she got involved in coaching at the youth level in Swanton. Right out of college she took a position coaching the Swanton U-14 girls soccer travel team, a title she held for three years.
She has also spent time as a volunteer girls basketball coach at the youth level, and coaching U-4 girls soccer, in which she was able to mentor one of her daughters.
Since the beginning of 2019, upon getting hired for the position at the high school, she served as Swanton’s rec soccer director.
Gustafson is familiar with many of the girls on the varsity roster from her days as the U-14 travel coach. In fact, the sophomore through senior class are the first groups of girls she ever had the pleasure of coaching.
But despite the familiarity with one another, Gustafson intends to wipe the slate clean, molding the team in her image.
“Like I’ve told the girls, I feel in my perspective I’m taking an old house and flipping it to a new house. To the way I want it to be. And I think that’s the best perspective I can put it as,” she said.
Gustafson has been able to conduct various workout sessions with the girls since the end of June, when restrictions related to the pandemic were eased. With some of the drills she has installed, repetition has been a key theme; she wants the girls to get comfortable doing things how she wants them done.
“I like to play possession and ball control,” said Gustafson on how she wants her teams to play. “And I don’t like doing kickball, to where it’s just like, whoever gets it you kick it as far as possible and everyone just run after it. I like to make sure we all work together as one; we all move together as one, while having the ball controlled.
“I do have moreso of an attacking mind than defensive mind. So I do want to come out attacking strong right away.”
She is poised to keep the program headed in a positive direction. And no matter the challenges that lie ahead, she knows much of the community is behind her.
“Coming from Swanton, I have a lot of support from a lot of people because of people knowing me and my background with soccer. So it means a lot,” Gustafson said. “It’s just like surreal almost. I still can’t believe it’s happening. Coming from U-14 to high school, it’s a whole different ballgame. My determination to win is to the top. And I’m just ready for the season to start because, like I said, these girls are so athletic and they’re all such a great group of girls.”
Gustafson will have a pair of assistants this coming year: Kersten Davis, an intervention specialist at Swanton Middle School, and Brittany Zedlitz who — like Gustafson — is a Swanton alum. She also has Malcolm Edge who will volunteer and help train the Bulldog goalkeepers.