Story by DJ Pigg, Contributing writer
When Murray State brought on Head Coach Jeremy Groves and his assistant, Matt Lodge, they had no idea the effect it would have on the program. But four years and two OVC regular season titles later, the two have shown they have more in common than an aptitude for winning.
It seems almost fateful that they’ve made their way to Murray State, as both men made an eerily similar journey that brought them to the Racers. Although they are roughly 10 years apart in age, they grew up within 25 miles of each other. Groves grew up in Leeds, United Kingdom while Lodge lived just mere minutes away in Doncaster, United Kingdom.
After finishing successful youth soccer careers in England, the two men made their way over to the states to embark on college careers at the University of Kentucky, with Groves playing from 2002-2004 and Lodge from 2009-2013.
Groves played for the Wildcats for three years after spending his first year of college at Virginia Intermont College. He led the Wildcats to two-straight Mid-American Conference championships in 2003 and 2004, and he then went on to play professionally.
Lodge didn’t waste any time attracting attention in the states. After his first year at Kentucky, he was named a freshman All-American and continued a great career that climbed up the all-time record lists at Kentucky. At the end of his time with the Wildcats, Lodge had earned third all-time in assists and game-winning goals. It was in Lodge’s time at Kentucky that he first came in contact with the man who would later become the head coach for Racer soccer.
The two met during Lodge’s freshman year while Groves was working as a graduate assistant on Kentucky’s coaching staff. Groves said the proximity of their hometowns was part of the recruiting pitch for Lodge to go to Kentucky.
After spending a season together as coach and player, Groves took an assistant coaching job at Morehead State University, where he coached from 2010-2013 while Lodge was finishing his final three seasons at Kentucky.
When the Murray State head coaching job opened up after the 2013 season, Groves applied because he felt he could bring success to a program with plenty of resources at their disposal.
“When I was at Morehead, we would come here (to Murray State) to play, and I didn’t understand why they weren’t doing better here,” Groves said. “It’s a beautiful campus, the field is in the middle of campus, and the town is great. So when I heard the job came open, I put in for it.”
Lucky enough for the soccer program, Groves got the job. He was tasked with assembling a coaching staff, and he knew the perfect candidate to complement his coaching style.
“I wanted someone who had played the game at a high level before,” Groves said. “And I wanted someone who could work with our attacking players, because my main forte is working with defenders.”
Knowing that Lodge was graduating from Kentucky, Groves first call was to contact Lodge and offer him a position.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Lodge said. “It’s funny how the world works, because my wife is from Paducah originally, and we met at Kentucky.”
Since then, there has been nothing but improvement for Racer soccer. In their first season at Murray State in 2014, the team made an immediate turnaround, going from 6-10-1 in the 2013 season to 11-9 in the 2014 season.
In 2015, the two led the Racers to a season record 16 wins, the OVC regular season title (undefeated in conference play) and their first OVC Championship win since 2009.
The program has since bounced back from a disappointing upset by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the 2016 OVC Championship, storming out to a perfect 5-0 start thus far.
Groves believes the key to their immediate success is due to his players buying into the expectations he set from the beginning.
“You have a vision of what you want to see and do,” Groves said. “My goal coming in was not only to win the OVC, but to try and win NCAA games and really get this place on the map as a soccer school. Fortunately for us, it has come off. We have high standards, and we don’t let our kids go beneath that. We have great kids that are very grounded.”
Lodge said that recruitment is a big part of their success, but in order to have success at a place like Murray State, he must create a place and environment that engages the players.
“For us, the biggest thing is creating a good culture, a positive culture, that kids want to be a part of,” Lodge said. “It starts with our seniors, and they show our underclassmen that that’s the way we do things here at Murray State, and this is why we’re successful. And that just gets passed down through each class.”
Along with their success on the field, the two coaches have also had success in starting their families. Groves and his wife, Melissa, have a five-year-old son, Aidan, and a one-year-old son, Jaxson. Lodge and his wife, Brooke, just had their first child, Millie, in March of this year.
Coaching a collegiate team while making time with family can be a challenge, but Groves said that he and Lodge are paired with a great supporting cast.
“Our wives are great and support us in what we do,” Groves said. “They make it easier on us.”
Lodge said he loves having his family at Cutchin Field for home games because of the influence they have on one another.
“It’s good that the girls get to interact with Millie, and it’s good for Millie to be around them because they will be role models for her,” Lodge said.
From Northern England to the University of Kentucky and now to Murray State, Groves and Lodge seem to have tread the same trail on their way to the Racers. They both have already had an abundance of success in their playing and coaching careers, and with the major improvements in Murray State soccer, it would be hard not to believe that the best has yet to come.