It’s fair to say that neither Marc Reeves nor the Elon University men’s soccer team expected to be in this situation.
Reeves had been enjoying a run of success never before seen at Radford University, winning three straight Big South Conference regular season championships and making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Meanwhile, Elon finished in the top four of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) for the third time in its three years in the CAA. With the entire starting lineup returning, former head coach Chris Little’s bunch seemed to have sights set high.
But on Feb. 22, 15 days after Little resigned to become the director of coaching at the Seattle Sounders FC’s academy, Reeves accepted the Elon job, taking the reins of the Phoenix from one of his better friends in college soccer.
“As opportunities arise, especially in a mid-semester, you have to jump on it to find out whether the opportunity is right for you,” Reeves said. “Elon certainly had so many appealing things that it seemed like a great fit, and I’m fortunate they chose me as the head coach.”
Reeves — who goes by “Reevo” to all around him — says the decision was made with family in mind, as he consulted with Little and the previous head coach, Darren Powell, about how supportive Elon was for it. He also saw the competition in the CAA as appealing.
“I think it’s a truly great opportunity in the CAA — it’s a strong league with great coaches,” Reeves said. “I have huge respect, and some of my best friends in college soccer coach at programs in the CAA. It has really successful programs top-to-bottom that are well-coached and talented.”
Reeves got to know Elon well during his years at Radford, facing off with the Phoenix in each of his seven years in charge. For Director of Athletics Dave Blank, that direct competition — which, in the past two years, has been two Radford wins — was “definitely a factor” in Reeves’ hire.
“One of the benefits of having a really good program that’s been built by some really good coaches is that you get to play some good competition,” Blank said. “We did play Radford several times, and they built themselves into being a Top-30 program. It’s not by happenstance that we’re playing them, and it certainly wasn’t ever a thought of, ‘Well, that’s a win, check that off,’ because he had built a good program.”
Reeves doesn’t need to do as much building at Elon, as he evaluated the current team as “truly talented.” Instead, Reeves is focusing on putting the talent around the pitch in the best position to succeed.
“Our job as a coaching staff is to find ways to maximize their full potential,” Reeves said. “Anytime there’s a change in leadership, there’s a clean slate on many things, and it allows people to be refreshed. The formula is quite strong already, so you base off of that and try and improve in some areas as you evaluate and assess the group the more you’re with them.”
Assistant coach Brad Franks is being retained on the coaching staff, with Reeves saying he’s “fortunate” that the Elon alum is sticking with the program. Joining Franks will be Maciej (pronounced like Magic) Sliwinski, who spent five seasons with Reeves at Radford before spending the past two years at Fairfield University.
“[Sliwinski] has a wealth of recruiting experience and a wealth of coaching experience,” Reeves said. “The most important piece to both of them is that they’re hard-working, loyal, trustworthy guys who I’ll enjoy being with every day. College soccer is fantastic, but it can also be grueling and time-consuming, so you want to be with people you enjoy. Franks and Maciej are going to be close friends and I’ll enjoy it.”
Reeves said he joked with Little about how tough Elon’s 2017 schedule is, saying, “Thanks for putting us in a spot to go 0-18.” Elon will play in Duke University’s John Rennie Invitational to open the season again, facing Fordham University and the University of Central Florida. Elon will also face three of the four North Carolina Atlantic Coast Conference schools: Duke, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University. All that is already on top of a difficult conference slate.
“The CAA will obviously be our focus, but the nonconference schedule is really challenging,” Reeves said. “Our focus will be to respect and prepare for each opponent regardless of their name. You have to prepare the same way while maximizing what our strengths are.”
In an ideal world, Reeves continues Elon’s recent trend of reaching the NCAA Tournament in an odd-numbered year, and perhaps takes the Phoenix past the second round, where Elon’s season ended in both 2013 and 2015. But while that may be a goal he carries, the coach wants to be careful to state such things publicly when results are so fickle.
“With some of the results, college soccer has such small margins,” Reeves said. “We joked about how the Elon-Radford game last year was an own-goal off of [sophomore goalkeeper Matthew] Jeiger’s head. The margins are so small, you want to focus on improving as a group and maximizing your team.
“Obviously, we have internal goals as a group, but we’re not going to be shouting them out or putting them on social media. We have a plan and a process in place to maximize this group to take us as far as we can and playing for as long as we can.”