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To Nancy Dirschel, it was just another coaching job.

The head of Dad's Club in Davenport, she already had been overseeing and instructing soccer teams for two decades.

Now in her third season with the Davenport West varsity boys squad, Dirschel realizes that she isn't just another coach.

As a female coaching a male sports team, she's a rarity. In fact, she's the only such high school soccer coach in the state.

But Dirschel didn't accept her position before the 2008 season to become a novelty.

Rather, she wanted to lay a foundation.

"One of the distressing things for me was the turnover in the boys program," she said. "Last year's seniors had three different coaches in their high school career.

"I don't think building a program is able to be done unless you have some consistency."

Already Dirschel, who didn't play soccer until she was an adult, has improved the Falcons. At 3-4 this spring, West has matched last year's win total (with seven fewer losses).

Women coaches in boys track and cross country are fairly common, with more than 50 in Iowa. But in traditional team sports, there are few examples.

At 390 schools in Iowa, only two such coaches are believed to exist. Michelle Brock and Brooke Epley each coach boys basketball in the rural Rolling Hills Conference at schools with double-digit enrollment.

That's worlds away from Davenport West, which has more than 2,000 students.

Big or small, the coaches face the same challenges.

Several times, Dirschel has experienced confusion involving her two male assistants, John Denkmann and Adam Wessling.

"I can tell you my eyes have been widely opened," she said. "We've had a few games, one this year, where the ref shook both of their hands and evidently thought I must have been the manager. You just giggle. What can you do?

"It doesn't bother me. I'm here to coach the boys."

Dirschel got into coaching through her two older daughters, whose preschool teams needed guidance. Not one to take on a challenge blindly, Dirschel has continued to study the game through books and coaching clinics.

Her attention turned from girls to boys with the growth of her son, Tyler. She coached his club team and took over at West his sophomore year.

Many of the Tyler Dirschel's teammates grew up playing for his mother. Those who didn't, though, were uneasy at first.

"My first year playing, it was sort of weird taking orders," West junior Ryan Ellenberg said. "Is she actually going to get to us? Is she going to be able to coach?

"But she proved she could do it. She's done everything she should."

Brock's experience was much the same when she took over three years ago as the boys basketball coach at Paton-Churdan, a school of 41 students 75 miles northwest of Des Moines. She came to the school as a music teacher and a year later became the state's only female to lead a male team.

"I'd been playing at open gyms with them, but they all were shocked the first time I showed up," Brock said. "By the start of the season, they knew I knew the game.

"I always find it odd when I see males coaching volleyball."

Dirschel and Brock both foresee expanded coaching opportunities for women in the future.

More broadly, Dirschel would like to see more female game officials and noted that only two females coach girls soccer teams in the 10-school Mississippi Athletic Conference.

"To get women to step up into coaching, I would encourage them to take that risk and try to surround themselves with the support that they need," Dirschel said. "I think the rewards far outweigh the negatives."

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