By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
It’s 10 a.m. on a Friday and Master’s men’s soccer coach Jim Rickard is describing one of the issues plaguing his sport.
“You have to do the work before you get the reward,” Rickard says. “A lot of people want to get the reward before they do the work. They don’t want to run unless they see you’re going to kick the ball. They are screaming for the ball the whole time and if they don’t get it, they’re upset. Well, there are 11 people on the soccer field and every single person that wants the ball isn’t going to get it. You need to do the work and you need to do the work and you need to do the work, and eventually, you’ll get paid.
“… The payment isn’t always that you’re going to get the ball and you’re going to score. You have to be mentally strong to do the work without seeing a reward and then all of sudden you score.”
By all of this, Rickard means to compliment fifth-year senior Dylan Bielanski, who has made a name for himself the last two seasons by always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. He does this by making the correct run over and over and over so that when the ball does come, it appears he’s anticipated something no one else did.
Really, the concept serves as an illustration of Bielanski’s career at Master’s – one that’s included a slow start, a major injury and a temporary position change. He put in the work even when the goals didn’t come. Now, he’s the team’s leading goal scorer and a major reason the Mustangs remain in contention for a Golden State Athletic Conference tournament berth.
Many of Bielanski’s goals have played out something like this: Against Eastern Oregon last month, Mustang Justin Ikeora zipped a pass to Luis Garcia Sosa, who turned and saw that Bielanski had already made a run toward the far post, perfectly positioned to finish the play. Garcia Sosa made the pass and Bielanski decisively put the ball into the net.
“His runs off the ball and ability to get into position to score, that’s what he’s always been good at,” Garcia Sosa said.
Bielanski has scored nine goals in 13 games, a mark that already signifies a career high and ranks fourth in the GSAC. Twice, he was named conference offensive player of the week.
This was the kind of production Rickard hoped to receive when he recruited Bielanski out of Valencia High, but it didn’t come right away.
Bielanski played in 19 games as a freshman, but only twice did he score. During one game, he didn’t play at all, something he couldn’t remember happening to him for most of a soccer career that included a stint with an LA Galaxy Youth Academy team.
“Coach came up to me and said, ‘Sorry you didn’t play,'” Bielanski recalls. “And I said, ‘It’s fine. You have to do what you have to do.'”
The experience was humbling, but it didn’t put a damper on Bielanski’s first year at TMU. He soaked up chapel messages and built friendships that remain strong to this day.
He also continued to push himself at practice.
“How he plays is how he trains,” says Garcia Sosa, who played with Bielanski at Valencia High before the two reunited at TMU. “He’s a very intense player. … He’s always playing full speed, and that’s something personally I try to imitate.”
Bielanski’s work might have paid off during his sophomore season in 2016 had he not broken his left arm on a bicycle-kick attempt in the fourth game of the year.
“I looked down (at my arm) and it looked like a staircase,” Bielanski says.
He missed the rest of the season, taking a redshirt and spending his time on rehab and academics, working toward a degree in kinesiology. He hated not being able to compete (“probably my toughest year here,” he says), but he maintained a positive outlook.
“It was hard, but he knew that it was for a reason,” Garcia Sosa says, “and he came back stronger. He kept doing what he does. He had faith in the Lord and his recovery went well.”
Upon his return in 2017, Bielanski was in for another curveball, though he found this one much more enjoyable.
Seeing a hole on the Mustangs’ backline, Rickard moved Bielanski to defender to take advantage of his composure and ability to handle the ball. Bielanski — a forward his entire career to that point — was all for it.
“I told coach from the beginning I would play anywhere,” Bielanski says. “He put me in that role because it needed to be filled. … All the hard work that had accumulated to that point with an injury and then coming back and earning a starting spot was a big accomplishment for me.”
Bielanski played in 20 games as a redshirt sophomore, making 17 starts, and helped the Mustangs record seven shutouts on the way to a 13-6-1 record.
By the following year, Rickard was ready to reposition Bielanski in the attack, a move that set the stage for a breakout season.
Bielanski scored seven goals as part of a 2018 Mustang team that came within one point of winning the program’s first GSAC regular season title since 2009. He served as a perfect complement to All-GSAC pick Trevor Mangan and GSAC Player of the Year Benji Tembo.
“He is (often) in the right place at the right time,” Rickard says of Bielanski. “He strikes the ball well. He is technically sound. When you’re technically good and you have composure in front of the goal, you’re probably going to make good on chances. Some people freeze up in front of the goal.”
Bielanski typically does not.
Especially in 2019 when he’s made the most of his fifth season at Master’s.
Bielanski, who earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology, began pursuing his MBA at Master’s two days after he crossed the stage at graduation in May.
The opportunity to add an extra degree was enticing, and his fiancée Kellian Ahearn, who completed the MBA program at Master’s while playing women’s soccer last year, encouraged him to pursue it.
He also wanted to play with Garcia Sosa and Ikeora, both high school teammates of his, for one more season.
Still, it was daunting.
Wading into an area of study completely foreign to him has been a challenge. But when has Bielanski ever shied away from putting in the work?
“I’m in financial accounting and corporate finance right now,” he says. “Those are really kicking my butt.