NEW LONDON – John Vraa, the activities director at New London-Spicer High School, has grown accustomed to presenting girls basketball coach Mike Dreier with commemorative plaques. Dreier, who has won more games than any girls basketball coach in Minnesota history, has been on the receiving end of handoffs from Vraa marking his 700th, 800th and 900th victories.
No. 900 came Tuesday night when the Wildcats defeated Montevideo 65-41. In a brief postgame ceremony, Vraa handed Dreier a small plaque as a memento and joked that after doing so for three big milestones, he looked forward to doing so again when Dreier gets to 1,000 victories.
Vraa also likes to joke about part of Dreier’s coaching career that receives no recognition. When Dreier came to New London-Spicer in the fall of 1978, he coached the seventh-grade football team on which Vraa was a player.
“I give him grief about how he should be known for the seventh-grade football team he coached,” Vraa said with a laugh.
Details of Dreier’s football coaching career may be lost to the ages, but there is no question about what his basketball teams have accomplished during his 40-year career. He has been the state leader in girls basketball coaching victories since 1994, has taken 17 teams to state tournaments and won state championships in 1997 and 2002.
His only losing season was his first, when the team went 3-15 (followed by two 10-10 seasons). His teams won at least 20 games in 30 of the past 33 seasons, including 21 in a row at one point; the other three years they won 19, 19 and 18 games. Tuesday’s win gave him a career record of 900-169 and a winning percentage of .842.
Dreier’s 900 victories not only make him No. 1 among girls basketball coaches, he ranks third among all girls and boys coaches (and No. 1 among active coaches). Chisholm boys coach Bob McDonald retired in 2014 with 1,012 victories and Rocori boys coach Bob Brink retired in 2012 with 936 wins. Third on the boys list is current Hopkins coach Ken Novak Jr. with 828 victories.
On the girls coaching list, five retired coaches follow Dreier: Myron Glass, Rochester Lourdes, 719; Ron Gunderson, New Prague, 684; Randy Myhre, Barnum, 626; Dick Simpson, Barrett, Brandon, Brandon/Evansville, 605; and Brad Atchison, Clara City, Midwest Minnesota, MACCRAY, Willmar, 589.
Gary Lembcke of Norwood Young America ranks second among active girls coaches with 589 wins, followed by Bill Gottenborg of Hawley at 562.
If you’re thinking that Dreier might be considering retirement, forget it.
“I really haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I love coaching. We’ve had pretty good success the last few years and we’ve gotten kind of rejuvenated. The ninth-graders are really into it. Why wouldn’t you want to keep doing it?”
No kidding. Co-captains Shea Oman and Courtney Caskey are the only seniors on the current varsity roster, which includes four sophomores and six ninth-graders. The Wildcats have gone to state in Class 2A the last two years; in 2016 they lost to Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the title game and last season they fell to eventual champion Roseau in the state semifinals.
After graduating from Burnsville High School in 1969, Dreier embarked on a circuitous college path. He started at Winona State, transferred to Bemidji State, then the University of Minnesota and finally Hamline for the last two years of his undergraduate education in physical education and health.
“I was on the seven-year plan and got through in six and two-thirds years,” he joked.
He worked as a substitute teacher for a year before returning to college to become certified to teach social studies. He was 26 years old when he was hired at New London-Spicer. He was an assistant girls basketball coach but was thrust into the head job when the coach took a leave of absence a week before the season started.
He and his wife Vonnie were married in 1984 and they have three sons. Vonnie has been the team’s official scorekeeper for years, and Tuesday night their son Tim (visiting from his home in Las Vegas) ran the clock. Their son Matt is the head girls basketball coach at Annandale; his team and his father’s team are both in the Wright County Conference. Youngest son Joey is a senior at Wisconsin-Eau Claire who is student teaching and working as an assistant coach to his dad this season.
“She’s just been wonderful in many ways,” Mike said of Vonnie. “She was a super mom for our three boys. She never missed anything that they did, and that made it easier if I had to miss something.”
Tuesday’s victory, which gave the team a record of 8-3, was watched by many of Dreier’s former players. They were invited to take the court at halftime for a shooting contest and they posed with their coach for a group photo after the game. After all the cameras had been clicked, the players gathered around Dreier, raised their hands in the middle of the huddle – just as in their playing days from the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond -- and shouted, “Together!”
“That was exciting,” Dreier said. “It’s been a great trip, it’s been so much fun.”--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
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