By: Danny Mooers; Sports Information Assistant
Creating a positive culture is sort of like a chef cooking a three course meal.
The first course, often a salad, sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Whether it’s more elaborate with cheeses, fruits and a tangy dressing or a typical side salad, people expect a pattern. They want to be surprised by the entree, but not shocked. If they choose the fancier salad, the chef should make sure he includes parsley on top of the Coriander-Planked Salmon. And then comes dessert. A worthy chef won’t skimp with a simple piece of chocolate cake. His customers need a black forest dome cake. Consistency combined with positive expectations is always key to developing repeat customers in the restaurant business.
Ben Tiemersma has witnessed something similar with the development men’s varsity volleyball team at Dordt College. The post-game food, however, never included a three course meal.
Tiemersma started his freshman year in 2015 and the 2016 season was the first year Dordt men’s volleyball had moved from being a club to a varsity sport. He scored the first ever point for the varsity program. An overpass by Trinity Christian College led to an easy tip and the program was rolling.
Chad Hanson, the women’s coach, was hired to be the men’s coach when the program made the transition. He took over for Dordt business professor Dr. Brian Hoekstra.
“Before we changed, volleyball was all for fun,” Tiemersma said. “It was chill, more disorganized and people just wanted to have a good time. But when Hanson took over, it was clear that things were going to change.”
The success of the women’s team was something that Hanson wanted to emulate with the men, but it was a challenge right from the beginning. Being in one of the top conferences in the nation with a first year program didn’t line up for immediate success.
Tiemersma didn’t even know varsity volleyball was a reality when he was in high school. Mark, his brother, had played on the Dordt club team, but Hanson recruited Ben at Illiana Christian High School outside of Chicago and offered a scholarship.
Freshmen year for Tiemersma gave him a false sense of reality.
“We graduated over half of our team after the 2016 season,” Hanson said. “We pretty much had to start over from the beginning after our first year.”
The 2016 seniors were used to winning games. The team went from 27-3 as a club team in 2015 to 4-19 in 2016 as a first-year varsity program. They quickly realized that there wasn’t going to be success if all they wanted was fun. Volleyball was a responsibility and the goal was to become better men and win. It meant putting in the work every single day to improve. The 2016 seniors started to understand this and did their best to communicate the expectations over the short season.
“A lot of that first year was spent trying to get guys to buy into the system,” Hanson said. “But by the time that was accomplished, most of the team was graduating.”
The 2017 tryouts came and numbers were scarce. Only 12 players made up the roster. It became apparent it was going to be a year of moral victories. While the desire to win was always there, the ability to do so wasn’t. Tiemersma stayed observant throughout the season and dependent on Hanson.
“Coach Hanson is a great coach,” he said. “It was an adjustment period that first year, but by the second year we were gelling more and we were doing our best to learn. He knows volleyball and how to develop players.”
With twenty three matches on the 2017 schedule, Hanson was hopeful because the only players left on the team had spent a year learning his system. Growth could be more fluid rather than spending time breaking habits formed when it was only a club team.
The Defenders started 0-4, but got their first win in the fifth game over Mount Mercy. From there, however, it was eighteen straight losses. The mindset for Tiemersma throughout the year stayed the same. His goal was to be coachable and soak in as much as possible. He finished the year with 191 kills, the second highest all-time number at Dordt. As a sophomore, Tiemersma understood that being intentional about improving was necessary.
The improvement couldn’t only take place on the court. As a first-year Resident Assistant much of his time was taken up with investing into his guys’ lives. He had to be more organized with his time. He knew that expectations for his play were going to rise the following year as an upperclassman.
Coach Hanson and new Graduate Assistant Alex Durbin spent the 2017 offseason recruiting. It was the first full offseason for the program and the staff was able to sign ten freshmen. Hanson knew that it would continue to be difficult to win matches, but hope for the future was high. Dordt only managed two wins in the 2018 season. Victories over Lindenwood-Belleville three games into the season and a sweep of Morningside late in the year were all the Dordt team could muster. The Defenders, however, did lead the nation in blocks per set in the 2018 regular season.
“That wasn’t something we set out to do,” Hanson said. “But it’s an amazing statistical category. Part way through the year it became a goal and to achieve it was an important confidence booster for us.”
It remained a year of moral victories and celebrating positive team chemistry. Hanson observed a more complete team as the year progressed. The freshmen saw the trust the upperclassmen had in Hanson and followed suit. Whether that was breaking previous habits and adapting new ones or consistently working hard in practice, things started to take shape.
The team graduated three seniors and were only bringing back two seniors; Tiemersma and recent transfer Austen Scammon.
The conclusion of the 2018 season gave Hanson and Durbin another offseason to recruit.
“One of my learning curves as a coach has been trying to bring in the right fit for the Dordt program” Hanson said. “This means a player who is engaged in the classroom; he’s active on campus and he’s a contributor to our program. Each year I’ve felt really good about our recruiting class.”
There are nineteen players on the 2019 roster and thirteen are underclassmen. It’s the first time in program history that there is a JV team. It puts more of a responsibility on the upperclassmen to show the younger guys the effort it takes to succeed in college athletics.
Tiemersma is at the forefront and feels as if he’s come into his own this year. He’s averaging almost four kills per set and already has 139 kills in eleven games. The team has three wins, tying the amount from the previous two years combined. Hanson attributes it to Tiemersma using his volleyball IQ and staying competitive through his years at Dordt.
“After only winning a few games in the first three years, Ben could have easily coasted through his four years in the program,” he said. “But he’s stayed very active and competitive. He’s a vocal leader, is mentoring guys and has a day-in-day-out work ethic.”
Tiemersma gives credit to the daily work in practice and listening to the coaching staff.
The Defenders have a difficult road ahead over the final eight matches. Their conference has three teams ranked in the top ten; all of which the Defenders still have to play. Hanson has a goal to finish with a .500 record, beat one of those ranked teams and we wants a home conference tournament game.
Moral victories are no longer okay. Getting frustrated after losses and working to improve is what is expected. Hanson sees what the team can do, but it requires further buy in to the culture he’s set on creating.
Tiemersma is confident in the team and knows results will come if they put in the proper time. But as the season is winding down, it’s natural for him to reflect on the previous three seasons.
“My freshmen year, I wasn’t that good,” he said. “I am good now only because I allowed myself to get coached and let others build me up; both coaches and my teammates.”
Speaking into his teammates lives is something that he is focusing on through the final few weeks. Being that constant voice of encouragement is important to him. He had upperclassmen who were intentional with him and he wants to ensure the underclassmen to keep those traditions going.
The time Tiemersma is putting in to those relationships now will continue to the program’s upward progression. Player to player and player to coach relationships is vital for success.
“Ben is one of the most intentional people I’ve met,” says Dr. Hoekstra. “He deeply loves and cares for those around him. He’s open and honest, passionate for the Lord and wherever he goes he’ll make it a better place.”