Aug 15, 2013
CHICAGO – A new day is dawning for DePaul’s track and field and cross country programs, and coach Dave Dopek wants his athletes to seize the moment.
Beginning with the cross country season on Aug. 31 and continuing on through the indoor and outdoor track season, the Blue Demons will be competing in a revamped version of the BIG EAST Conference.
Instead of 15 women’s cross country teams and 14 on the men’s side, the new BIG EAST will have 10 teams in both genders.
Georgetown was second, Providence fourth and Villanova fifth in the men’s cross country conference meet last year and will be the favorites in the new league. Butler won the Atlantic 10 conference meet.
The Hoyas’ women’s team won the BIG EAST last year while Providence was third and Villanova fourth. Butler’s women won the Atlantic 10 meet.
“On the distance side and in cross country, Georgetown and Villanova are going to be very strong on the men’s side,” Dopek said. “Both those programs finished in the top 30 of last year’s NCAA Cross Country Championships.
“On the women’s side, Providence was second at the NCAA meet, Georgetown was 12th, Villanova came in 20th and Butler was 29th.
“A lot of the old guard coming over is known for strong distance programs.”
The Blue Demons' coach and 1995 NCAA 200-meter dash champion for DePaul is excited about a new track and field landscape.
“It’s looking really good,” Dopek said. “I enjoy the idea of being in a conference with like-minded schools. We’re all going after the same type of student-athlete---high academics, high character and athletically talented who wants to go to college in an urban environment.
“There are no state universities. It’s a level playing field when it comes to resources. When there aren’t any schools with Division I football programs, now you’re comparing apples to apples.
“This is a reset for everyone in the new conference. It’s time to move up. More than anything else, I’m really looking forward to watching our team rise up in the new BIG EAST.”
Dopek believes the Blue Demons have been primed to make a significant move in 2013-14.
“We’ve spent the last three years recruiting high-end talent and going after the kids competing at nationals,” Dopek said. “We’ve been fortunate to bring in some great recruiting classes. This year’s class has some incredibly talented athletes.
“Now, we’re working on bringing all these recruiting classes together, mix in some team chemistry and become a championship team.”
The downsizing of the BIG EAST could dovetail with an emerging DePaul track and field program.
“Last season there were 14 women’s teams competing at the BIG EAST Outdoor Track & Field Championships,” Dopek said. “This season, there will be eight teams. On the men’s side, it goes from 13 teams to seven.
“With fewer teams, there is a greater availability for kids to place in events. Be prepared to step up and seize the moment.”
In the men’s 2012 BIG EAST Outdoor Championships, Georgetown finished eighth, Villanova ninth, DePaul 11th, Marquette 12th and Providence 13th. On the women’s side, Villanova was fourth with Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Marquette and DePaul pretty much bunched together.
“I expect this season and the opportunities being presented to really get the program’s momentum going,” Dopek said. “People love winning, and there’s going to be lots of chances for that.
“We can reset our place in the conference. This is an excellent chance to become whatever we want.”
Throughout his 23 years as an NCAA champion sprinter, an assistant coach and now head coach, Dopek has been involved in multiple conference changes.
“When I first set foot on this campus in 1991, it was our first season in the Great Midwest Conference,” Dopek said. “During my years as an assistant coach, we went into Conference USA. It was a substantial step up going from Conference USA to the BIG EAST.
“I’m not sure how ready our program was for each of those moves. But the moment it became apparent that the BIG EAST was changing, that caused a significant and forceful shift. We got really fired up about recruiting. We told prospective student-athletes that they could have an even bigger impact with the new conference.
“Over the last year, I have done a ton of research on the new conference. I enjoyed being in the bigger conference with its high-powered competition at the conference meets.
“Last season, it would take a flawless performance to finish in the top three. But because the schools in the new league are much more similar, the race to the top is now wide-open.”
It is a race in which DePaul hopes to be a top contender.
“I certainly feel we are prepared for the new conference,” Dopek said. “We have a strong group of performers who had success last season setting school records and personal records. A good number of our athletes scored at the conference meet, and they are all returning. We have an incredibly talented freshman class coming in.
“I expect us to do very well.”