FISHER — The rain fell on Aug. 12. In droves.
It’s a day folks living in Gibson City won’t soon forget. Nor will the Hull family.
See, Hull Family Tire opened up for business on Aug. 11 in Gibson City. A day later, the shop had to close because of the severe flooding in the Ford County community.
A day later, though, the new business was clean again. Thanks, in large part, to the Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys’ soccer team.
David Hull is a freshman forward/midfielder on the team this season. He had yet to play a match, however, with the Bunnies. But he sent a text message to Fisher/GCMS coach Robbie Dinkins around 1:30 p.m on Aug. 13 explaining the flooding situation at his family’s new business.
Oil lined the floors. Garbage was strewn about. Equipment was under water. A half hour later, Dinkins and nine of his players showed up. To help.
“We got the shop cleaned in about 15-20 minutes when it probably would have taken us two days because it was such a big project,” Hull said, reflecting on the situation almost two months later. “It was bad, but our team and our communities really made it a lot better than what it was.”
Dinkins said it was a small amount of time for he and his players to lend a hand. More than worth it.
“The Hulls are a really good family, and they sacrificed cleaning that shop to help other people out,” Dinkins said. “They were pumping people’s basements out all night long. It was the least we could do.”
This lone act of kindness isn’t the main reason why the Fisher/GCMS soccer team is having a season to remember this fall. The Bunnies are 18-0-1 and have already established a single-season record for wins ahead of hosting Argenta-Oreana/Decatur Lutheran in a Class 1A regional semifinal match on Tuesday night in Fisher.
But it foreshadows what happens when a team sacrifices for the common good. Thinks about others before themselves. Works hard. Deflects the credit.
“The bond on this team is like no other on any other team I’ve been on,” said Ryan Grieser, a senior defender from Fisher. “We don’t see each other a lot during the day because we’re in two different schools, but we’ve got an instant connection when we see each other.”
Eye-popping numbersOf course, having talented soccer players helps.
The Bunnies rely on a balanced offense, with four players registering double-digit goals. Sophomore midfielder Isaiah Johnson leads the way with 18 goals, followed by sophomore midfielder Jacob Chittick (13 goals), junior forward Chase Minion (12 goals) and junior midfielder Seth Kollross (11 goals). Kollross leads the Bunnies with 14 assists, while freshman midfielder Sid Pfoff has 12 assists to go along with eight goals.
These are just some of playmakers Dinkins has to operate with in front of senior goalie Aaron Kasper and a defense that has produced 13 shutouts this season.
“It’s a fun group to be around. There’s no egos. They like each other. I don’t have to worry about them. The chemistry is just awesome,” Dinkins said. “We don’t have that high-end guy, but we just share the ball so well that it works. It’s something you can’t explain. The guys have talent, but we have a lot of guys that can just make plays.”
Fisher/GCMS hasn’t just won a bunch of 1-0 or 2-1 matches this year, either. The Bunnies have outscored their foes 94-7 through their first 19 matches.
“We’re unselfish. We’ve got plenty of guys scoring across the board, filling roles and doing what we need to do,” Kollross said. “I think our biggest strength is just being prepared. Coach spends a lot of time gameplanning to stop other teams. We look at all the little details, and that gives us an advantage, knowing who the other teams’ biggest weapons are. We’re still a skilled and efficient team, but we’re always prepared.”
A pleasant surpriseTwo aspects that makes the success even more surprising and bode well for the future: the Bunnies lost seven starters from their condensed spring season earlier this year, while Grieser, Kasper and Jaden Recker are the only seniors on the 19-man roster.
“We’ve been told we were good, so we’ve always believed it,” said Minion, who watched the program close up since his older brother, Alex, graduated last year. “Since we’re confident, we play like we’re confident, and we play like we’re good. It comes from past teams, the coaches and the towns around us. It all just really helps.”
Talk to any player on the Fisher/GCMS roster, and they all expected to have success this season. But to not lose a match, with a 2-2 tie at Monticello on Aug. 24 the only time the Bunnies haven’t experienced a winning feeling? Come on. Hardly anyone could have seen that coming.
“It’s surreal, and it doesn’t feel real at times,” Grieser said, “but we know it is because we put in the work to get there.”
Home sweet homeAdding to the excitement this season is the fact Fisher/GCMS will host a four-team regional this week. At probably one of the unlikeliest venues to host soccer matches in the area: the Fisher Fairgrounds.
“Our field’s in a unique spot,” Dinkins said with a grin. “We have lights. We have a little hill in the corner that we call the Green Monster. It’s a fun field to play on, and the kids really like it. I’m excited to host. It takes a lot of work to get it ready, but I’m excited about it.”
The orange Fisher water tower is nearby. So is a park. A few small soccer fields. And a few white buildings that are fully stocked each year the Fisher Fair takes place.
Corn fields are also a long free kick away, with Grieser saying he and his teammates have had to go in there a few times to retrieve soccer balls that get away during practices.
“A lot of teams don’t love our field because it’s just different,” Grieser said. “Sometimes our surface is a little bumpy, but it’s not bad. We like it. Being two small farming communities, it’s what we’ve grown up around.”
Four area teams will descend upon the Fairgrounds on Tuesday afternoon and evening. Second-seeded Uni High (9-7) meets 10th-seeded Schlarman (5-11-2) at 4:30 p.m. in the first regional semifinal match before third-seeded Fisher/GCMS tangles with seventh-seeded Argenta-Oreana/Decatur Lutheran (11-8-1) at 6 p.m. The two semifinal winners will meet again at the Fairgrounds, this time for a regional championship and a spot in next week’s Bloomington Central Catholic Section, at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
“I wouldn’t say we’re feeling pressure,” Grieser said. “We know we have to prepare, and we can’t overlook anybody, but being home is going to be so awesome. We feel really good when we play at home, and it’s going to be so neat to have the whole community there. I can’t wait.”
Coaching factorDinkins gathered his team inside the Fisher High School library last Thursday evening. Rain washed out a chance to get much practice in, although conditioning was still a priority outside.
Inside, the team sat in chairs, all masked up, watching film on an overhead projector. They all sat attentive, with Dinkins going over specific points. Making what Kollross said come to life: preparation, preparation and more preparation.
Dinkins also helps coach basketball and track and field at GCMS. He carries over lessons gleaned from GCMS boys’ basketball coach Ryan Tompkins — Dinkins was an assistant coach on the Falcons’ 2018-19 team that placed third in state in 2A — and takes them with him to the soccer field. The results have worked, since he’s 56-11-7 in his fourth season leading the Bunnies.
“He’s a great coach,” Minion said. “Some of the seniors who graduated last year play college soccer, and they’ve told me, ‘Be grateful for Coach Dinkins.’ He is really smart and top-notch. He believes in us. That’s the main part, and that makes us more confident.”
The feeling is mutual for Dinkins. He’s not looking past Argenta-Oreana/Decatur Lutheran on Tuesday night. After all, his first team in 2018 carried a 17-2-1 record into the postseason, only to lose 2-1 to Unity in a regional semifinal match.
He’s eager to see what his players can do, though, this postseason and what support might look like for the small-school program wishing to accomplish big goals.
“We’ve had a lot of people show up this season, and it seems like every game, there’s more and more,” Dinkins said. “We get the best of both worlds. We don’t just get a lot of people from Fisher, but also from Gibson. It would mean a lot, not only to these guys, but to the alumni prior, to go on a run. This is a group that, regardless of what happens in the postseason, I’ll never forget.”
And that’s one lasting lesson Dinkins is undoubtedly imparting on his latest soccer team. Win or lose, they’ll be there for each other.
Just ask the Hull family.
Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at email@example.com.