Gruner steps down as M-S soccer leader

Gruner steps down as M-S soccer leader

MAHOMET — This wasn't a snap decision from Joey Gruner. He knew well in advance that the 2018 Mahomet-Seymour girls' soccer campaign would be his last as the program's coach.

His athletes knew that as well. But he refused to let the situation become any sort of rallying cry during a season that ended with a Class 2A sectional semifinal loss to Springfield on May 22.

"I didn't want to have pressure on myself or on the players," said Gruner, who has officially stepped down as the Bulldogs' leader after eight seasons. "I didn't even want them thinking about me or my last year. I didn't want it to be a big deal."

Perhaps the athletes still found inspiration from Gruner's impending departure.

They posted a 21-3 record and nearly advanced to a sectional final, despite star senior Meredith Johnson-Monfort missing the match with an injury.

"I felt comfortable and confident with what we've done and what I've done," Gruner said. "My background was not in soccer. My high school didn't even have the sport."

Gruner said he isn't sure who might follow in his footsteps with the Bulldogs, but hopes "they'll find someone who can take the program to the next level."

Beyond the pitch, Gruner plans to continue teaching Spanish at Fisher. But changes are on the horizon for the 53-year-old.

In 2016, Gruner earned his master's in sports management from the University of Illinois. He plans to chase down a career in that field, noting he'll likely need to obtain an internship to further break into a sports operation profession.

Coaching soccer simply became a burden for Gruner rather than something he enjoyed.

"The time that it takes and the mental stress was starting to wear on me," Gruner said. "My wife says, 'Most of the stress you have you put on yourself.' And I know that's true, but I don't know any other way to do it."

Gruner arrived on the Champaign County prep soccer scene in the late 1990s, serving as an assistant under recently retired Urbana coach Randy Blackman. Since then, Gruner has spent time learning from coach Janet Rayfield and her Illini soccer staff while also logging hours guiding athletes in Honduras.

"When I started coaching here, my goals for myself were pretty low," Gruner said. "It was just like, 'Let's see if I can keep my head above water.' But I loved learning about the game."

Gruner won't soon forget his journey with M-S girls' soccer. And not simply because of the program's penchant for winning.

"I feel good that the program was run with integrity," Gruner said. "I feel like our focus was always on being a team-oriented program. Those are the main things that I wanted to be judged by."