John’s Journal: More Basketball History In The Offing For Dreier
New London-Spicer Coach Is One Win From 1,000
Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2022 - 1:56 PM
Had Mike Dreier made a different decision 44 years ago, who knows what might have happened? What we do know is that Dreier, head coach of the New London-Spicer girls basketball team, is on the cusp of history.
When the Wildcats’ home game against Litchfield tips off Tuesday night, Dreier will have 999 career victories. Should it end with New London-Spicer (14-1) defeating the Dragons (12-6), Dreier will become only the second coach in Minnesota high school basketball history – and the first girls coach -- with 1,000 wins.
The other is Chisholm legend Bob McDonald, who retired after the 2013-14 season with 1,012 boys basketball victories over 59 seasons. McDonald was 80 years old when he stepped down and 87 when he died in 2020. Dreier, 70, has a chance to pass McDonald’s total before this season ends.
Asked how it sounds to have his name and Bob McDonald’s in the same sentence, Dreier said, “It doesn’t sound like they belong together. He was an icon.”
Always deferential, always wanting the team to be the focus, always respectful of the game and the opposition. But Dreier’s career coaching girls basketball may have never began if not for a choice he made when he was hired as a teacher. There were two coaching jobs available and he had the pick: seventh-grade boys basketball or assistant varsity girls basketball.
He wanted to coach basketball and the varsity job had more appeal. So he was hired as an assistant before another fateful turn: the head coach stepped down before the season began, and 26-year-old Mike Dreier was suddenly the head coach.
Victory No. 1 was a 29-22 decision over Kimball on Dec. 12, 1978. His first season ended with a record of 3-15, and that’s the only losing record in Dreier’s career. His overall record is 999-184 for a winning percentage of .844.
According to records maintained by the National Federation of State High School Associations, only 12 girls basketball coaches in the country had won at least 1,000 games before the current season began. The national record is 1,416, set by Leta Andrews of Texas in 2014.
Dreier graduated from Burnsville High School in 1969 before embarking on a circuitous college path. He started at Winona State, transferred to Bemidji State, then the University of Minnesota and finally Hamline to complete his undergraduate education.
“I squeezed four years of college into six and two-third years,” he quipped.
While in school he coached youth sports, including those on which some of his eight siblings played. “I fell in love with it,” he said.
Dreier taught social studies, history and physical education until retiring from teaching a decade ago. His coaching style is hard-nosed on the court and studious off the court.
“I think first and foremost is that he fine-tunes everything, he looks at details,” said 27-year-old Joey Dreier, one of Mike and Vonnie Dreier’s three sons and one of his dad’s assistant coaches, along with Margaret Essler.
“It's pretty amazing,” Joey said. “He will see one or two girls out of position and he’s able to point that out to them and have the girls be able to hear that and understand it. I think back to my childhood; he has his office downstairs and he was up until midnight or one o'clock in the morning, looking at tape and breaking it down to be ready for practice the next day.
“It's pretty crazy how, even after 40-some years, it's still the same energy and the same stuff that he brings day in and day out.”
Basketball is a family affair for the Dreiers. Vonnie is the official scorekeeper for most home games, Matt is the head girls coach at Annandale (also in the Wright County Conference) and Tim, who lives in Las Vegas, makes it home for games when he can.
Mike Dreier’s teams have played in 19 state tournaments, winning championships in 1997 and 2002 and finishing as the state-runner-up six times. The Wildcats have won 20 games or more in 34 of the last 37 seasons, including one stretch of 21 years in a row. They won 22 of 23 West Central Conference titles from 1982-2005 and 29 conference championships overall, including five in their current conference, the Wright County.
New London-Spicer went to state in Class 2A last year, losing to Providence Academy in the semifinals. That team was led by five seniors, three of them standing six feet or taller. This year’s team is younger and smaller.
“I’m totally pleased with how we’ve done so far,” Dreier said. “It looked like it was going to be a building process, and maybe it still will be, but they’ve just come on and played with a lot of confidence and determination. These kids have waited for their turn to get on the varsity floor.”
Dreier’s milestone wins have come like clockwork: No. 500 in the 2001-02 season, No. 600 in 2004-05, No. 700 in 2009-10, No. 800 in 2013-14 and No. 900 in 2017-18. He has plaques to mark them all but pays little mind to such things.
“To be honest with you, the only time I think about it is when somebody mentions it,” he said. “It isn’t anything I’ve ever aspired to try to do. It’s been an awful fun ride getting to where we are and seeing where we’ve been.”
Earlier this season, Dreier was named a recipient of the John Wooden Legacy Award by the National High School Basketball Coaches Association. He learned about the honor in an email and never mentioned it to anyone, including his family.
Joey said, “I saw the news somewhere and I said, ‘Dad, what is this that you’ve got going here?’ It’s something that he's not going to go and tell anybody about. It's all because of the team and the teams that he has around him and the positive attitudes, the work ethic that they all have.”
Mike Dreier agreed that what he values the most are the kids he has coached.
“That’s a big part of what’s it all about, the relationships you develop. No doubt about it. It’s really special, the relationships with the kids. When you work with a group of kids, it’s amazing how close you can become to them. Year after year, it exponentially expands and it’s great.”
He has no plans to retire, saying, “I’ve never thought that long-term about it, as long as I’ve got kids who respond and are trying to get better and parents who aren’t a pain in the butt and a supportive administration.”
Current senior Nyla Johnson, one of many second-generation family members to play for Dreier, said seeing their coach near 1,000 wins is special for everyone.
“It's such a surreal moment to be a part of because it's such a long legacy of Coach Dreier. We're just super excited to be a part of it and share that with him.”
Another senior, Isabelle Schmiesing, was asked about the Wildcats’ formula for success. Anyone who has seen them play understands her answer.
“He really emphasizes rebounding and defense,” she said. “We've always talked about how offense wins games but defense wins championships. And I think that's definitely showed in his record. He's just a big defense person and I'm big defense person myself. So I love that way of coaching.”
Dreier’s 999th win came Thursday night in a 67-47 decision at Glencoe-Silver Lake. No. 2 on the girls basketball coaching list is Myron Glass of Rochester Lourdes, who retired in 2014 with 719 victories. Third is New Prague’s Ron Gunderson, who had 684 when he retired in 2017. Next, at 661, is current Norwood Young America coach Gary Lembcke.
Glencoe-Silver Lake coach Jeff Monahan said there are few surprises when the Wildcats are the opponent.
“We know what we're going to get every time,” he said. “Mike’s always so classy. He respects our team, too. I always enjoy playing them. They're always rated really high and it helps our team, too. But it's a challenge. You want your teams to compete, and I think there have been times where, going in, we maybe don't think we can win. But I tell the kids that you’ve got to fight, but have fun playing them.
“We always enjoy traveling up there and he's always a phone call away to help me, which is the best.”
Dreier’s booming voice has been heard from the bench in countless gyms around the state, and it can be intimidating.
“When I was younger, I was terrified,” Schmiesing said. “But as I got older I learned that you’ve got to listen to what he says, not necessarily how he says it.”
Mike and Vonnie have two grandchildren, with a third coming soon. The players said they love to see those toddlers in the gym.
“When his granddaughter comes to practice, when she comes to hang out with us, his face lights up,” Johnson said. Schmiesing wore a big grin, saying, “It’s a whole different side of him. He runs over with a smile on his face.”
The gym in New London will be crowded Tuesday night. As is customary when Dreier has reached a milestone, former players gather to talk about their own teams and cheer for the current Wildcats and the coach they all know and love.
“He wants the best for us out on the court and has our best interests in mind,” Johnson said. “We know that he cares about us.”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org