Columbus Eagles’ Dani Gunderson has loved playing soccer since she could walk, but now she is discovering a new passion from the sidelines as the head women’s soccer coach at Muskingum University.
By Olivia Carnevale
July 4, 2022 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Just over two minutes remain in the 2012 USA South women’s soccer conference tournament
and Christopher Newport University is down 2-1 to Averett University. Hanging onto all the
emotions of her final collegiate season, senior forward Dani Gunderson takes the ball, leaving a
string of defenders behind, creating an open shot, and firing a rocket, sending the game into
This is just one of many exhilarating moments in Columbus Eagles’ Dani Gunderson’s career. Yet now she is looking to expand these moments to a new wave of female soccer players, as both a veteran on the Eagles and as the head women’s soccer coach at Muskingum University.
Though Gunderson’s career didn’t start overnight. Her passion for the game began as early as she could walk, and with a ball at her feet, she discovered an unyielding love.
“When I have the ball at my feet or I’m a part of a game I just feel like it fits me, it’s almost like my home,” said Gunderson.
Gunderson’s family and childhood was centered around soccer, and when she attended Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, she continued playing.
It was at Christopher Newport University that Gunderson was able to not only experience the game-winning moments every player dreams of, but also discover a new passion for a different side of the sport: coaching.
This new passion for coaching started with an opportunity at a nearby high school while still a college student.
“I was able to coach a local high school, I was the basketball and soccer assistant coach,” said
Gunderson, “what really excited me was to see their growth through the beginning of the season to the end of the season.
Gunderson never grew up dreaming about being on the sideline, building a recruiting class and developing young talent, but as she finished her collegiate career, she kept going back to her experience coaching at that high school.
“I kinda went back and forth between a lot of different things,” said Gunderson, “I wanted to be an accountant, I thought I maybe wanted to be a counselor, and then I realized quickly when I finished my fall career in college, I couldn’t give up soccer and I wanted to be around it however I could, and coaching was my way to stay involved the game”
Staying involved in the game sent Gunderson to Pennsylvania, Maryland and to her current home of Ohio where she recently became the head women’s soccer coach at Muskingum University in March of 2020.
Through her movement from state to state, different schools and coaching positions, Gunderson’s drive to coach has blossomed and grown outside of just the sport itself.
“I think my drive to stay in coaching is from those athletes, is from the excitement they get some technique down, when they’ve gotten some defensive shape down, or they’ve succeeded in some shape or form that we’ve worked on in practice,” Gunderson continued, “even more importantly, what’s driven me to be a head coach is seeing them grow off the field and seeing them become leaders.”
Gunderson has, and continues to develop young women on and off the field and has even been able to experience some game-winning or season-defining moments of her own, but this time, as a coach.
Through a win at her first head coaching position at Muskingum University, Gunderson felt the same amount of excitement as her own triumphs as a college player for the victory, the teamwork and the players involved.
“It was my first win as a head coach, we won against Bluffton, we beat them 3-0, a pretty significant win, but the way we won the game was, to me, the best thing,” said Gunderson, “we got down to our third string goalkeeper, we had some different changes up top and even in the midfield, and I think it spoke towards the hard work that our team put in practice day in and day out and is how we won that game, and how we came away with a shutout.”
Though she discovered newfound love and success from the sidelines, Gunderson was never able to give up playing on the field, experiencing the action first-hand.
Wherever she went to coach, she has taken these experiences with her and applied them to her
local WPSL, Women’s Premier Soccer League, team, and since 2017, that team has been the
“I think coaching has definitely driven my leadership to be more helpful or specific playing with the Eagles, and I think that it adds that little bit more fun to me,” Gunderson said.
By stepping up and taking a leadership role, she is able to use interactions with her own players and motivate her younger Eagles teammates.
However, she acknowledges balancing the role of a coach and player can be difficult, and sometimes distracting.
“The only negative I can say is sometimes, like if it’s at practice, I’ll watch something develop and them I just stand there and get excited about it,” said Gunderson, “In practice I’ve caught myself where I’m like ‘Dani you’re supposed to be moving with that play not just watching the play go.’”
Gunderson doesn’t plan on quitting either side of the game anytime soon, and her love for the sport has not changed since the first time she kicked a soccer ball, to her game-tying goal at Christopher Newport University sending the conference championship into overtime, to her first win as a collegiate head coach.
“I’ll do it as long as my body allows me,” said Gunderson.
So, for the time being, Gunderson continues to balance her two loves for the same sport: soccer.