Matt Fannon brings energy and excitement to Iowa State soccer

Iowa State soccer Head Coach Matt Fannon. 

John Miller

COVID-19 has created a new level of uncertainty when it comes to college sports.

But first-year Iowa State soccer Head Coach Matt Fannon is making it easy for his players to feel right at home. 

From weekly Zoom or FaceTime meetings during quarantine, to bringing the intensity when practices started up, Fannon is dealing with the challenges of earning a new team’s respect even as a global pandemic is still in full swing.

“There’s nothing about Iowa State that limits our ability to compete,” Fannon said. “We have the facilities, campus and staff, we just need to change the old mindset that we can’t win.”

Those results on the field have been missing for the Cyclones.

Last year, Iowa State went 3-15 overall and 0-9 in Big 12 play. The Cyclones’ last winning season was in 2016, going 10-8-1. The team’s last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2005.

“The difference in mentality is huge with [Fannon],” said Taylor Bee, a junior defender. “We obviously didn’t want to lose before but I don’t think we had it instilled in us that everything we do, we need to do the best we can, whether it’s being first in the lunch line or with soccer.”

Fannon comes from Bowling Green State, who he led to a 41-18-7 mark in his three seasons there, winning Mid-American Conference (MAC) Coach of the Year each season.

He won more games at Bowling Green than the school won in the previous eight years combined.

In 2018 and 2019, Bowling Green won both the MAC regular season and tournament championships and moved on to the NCAA Tournament.

“I think what makes him special is that he is never negative,” said Claudia Najera, a sophomore midfielder. “He tells us how we can fix things instead of yelling about what we did wrong.”

Before Bowling Green, Fannon coached at Wittenberg University for four years, leading them to a 40-26-10 mark. The school made the NCAA Division III Tournament in his final season, earning him the North Coast Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

Fannon attributes most of his success to stressing the details.

“I try to get our women to think on a worldly perspective,” Fannon said. “Most of them aren’t going to be in soccer forever so the things we can teach them about how they carry themselves and learning from mistakes is something that applies no matter where you go.”

While the NCAA Tournament for soccer was canceled this year due to COVID-19, it doesn’t make this year any less special for Iowa State.

Building on what the team can accomplish in a shortened season would be huge to development in the future and building confidence.

“He has a huge belief that we don’t need a couple years to get better, we can do it every day,” Bee said.

Fannon’s teams have adopted an aggressive attacking style, which leads to scoring opportunities as well as limiting scoring chances for the opponent.

This intensity can be hard to adapt to, especially when the Cyclones played generally conservative before.

But Fannon has made the transition seamless for his team so far.

“It’s so different having a coach that is super intense and stresses focus during practice but then after practice we’re cool and he asks us about our day,” Najera said. “I feel like I’ve had him as a coach for three years already.”

Fannon said his transition is also made easier by tailoring to each players’ needs.

“You get the most out of your players when they believe they’re getting the most out of you,” Fannon said.

One struggle that usually comes with new coaches is not having the players they recruited.

Since coaching styles differ, certain players’ skills could mean more to others.

“I think a lot of coaches want to coach their team a certain way and force everybody to adjust to it, but I don’t think you get the most out of everyone when that happens,” Fannon said. “I realized quickly that I can know everything there is about soccer, but it’s irrelevant if I don’t know how to teach at a level differently to each one so they can understand.”

The team has no opt outs for this season, meaning everyone will be suiting up.

The Cyclones hope this early season bonding turns into wins on the field.

While the team doesn’t expect to be contending for championships right away, Fannon said these fundamental basics put them in the right direction.

“We want to be as successful as possible right now,” Fannon said. “You hear many coaches that come in with a thought process and find excuse on top of excuse that they will struggle, but that’s just not how I function.”

The Big 12 released a conference-only schedule Tuesday, with the Cyclones playing a match against all of the nine other conference teams.

The games are scheduled every Friday, beginning Sept. 11 and ending Nov. 6.

“This year, especially in the coronavirus environment, there’s going to be a lot of learning, and I think we’re just excited to get on with it,” Fannon said.