DePaul Track and Field Races to its Greatest Season
June 12, 2014
CHICAGO - There hasn't been this much excitement surrounding the DePaul track and field program since---well, since coach Dave Dopek was an NCAA champion in the 200-meter dash at the 1995 indoor nationals.
There was throws coach Brandon Murer frantically trying to watch both Matt Babicz (shot put) and Sarah Moss (discus) compete simultaneously at last month's BIG EAST Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
"I'll never forget my last throw in the discus," Moss said. "Coach Murer was coming my way just as Matt was finishing up. I was about 35-40 yards away and could see Matt's throw. I was laughing as coach Murer was running back and forth trying to follow both of us. I heard him shout `Yea Matt!' and moments later after my throw it was `All right, Sarah!'"
Across the street and through a parking lot was the track venue where Dopek was overseeing the running events as his phone was buzzing with messages from excited track and field alumni.
It was a scene that brought a smile to Dopek's face.
There are these special ultra-bright scarlet-and-royal jerseys that his athletes are only allowed to wear on championship days. On the day of the BIG EAST finals, those special jerseys were making one appearance after another on the awards podium.
In three events, there was nothing but Blue Demons accepting first-second-third-place medals.
"The finals day of the BIG EAST meet was as exciting as you could imagine," Dopek said. "Those bright Blue Demon jerseys were everywhere, and I had never seen so many championship jerseys. We swept three events, and those jerseys made constant appearances on the awards podium.
"If people didn't believe in us before---they do now. This is where our athletes needed to be and what I expected them to do. Our athletes knew they were supposed to accomplish something like this and they were able to do it.
"What's the next step? Well, we still haven't won the BIG EAST yet. The two team trophies we brought home are nice, but neither of them is gold.
"I'm happy and the kids are happy with our results. It's just a matter of time before we win a conference title."
The men's team posted 166 points to finish second behind Villanova while the women took fourth (115 points), just five points behind Marquette.
Xavier Jones was named the Men's Most Outstanding Track Performer, while Babicz was named the Men's Most Outstanding Field Performer. Moss was named the Women's Most Outstanding Field Performer.
Jones captured three individual conference championships and a runner-up title. He won the 100 and 200-meter dashes and teamed with Mac Melto, Brandon Threats and Chaz Bottoms on the winning 4x100m relay and came in second with the same teammates in the 4x400m.
DePaul swept the 200m with Threats coming in second and Melto third. Melto and Threats finished 1-2 in the 400m. Durrell McDonald was second in the high jump.
Babicz won the shot put with a career-best and BIG EAST Championship-record toss of 19.27 meters to capture the crown by over three full meters. Younger brother Anthony Babicz was second and Trevor Kintyhtt third. The Blue Demons also swept the men's discus event behind Kintyhtt, Matt Babicz and Blake Thompson.
On the women's side, Moss reached the podium in three separate events, winning the discus and placing third in the shot put and hammer throws. Corinne Franz was second in the discus and MaShayla Kirksy second in the long jump.
Shayna Nwokenkwo, Taylor Farley, Tayler Whittler and Ayesha Ewing won the 4x100m in 46.27 seconds, a school record. Whittler also reached the podium with a pair of third-place finishes in the 100 and 200.
"Watching so many teammates going up to the awards podium was incredible," Moss said. "One image sticks with me as I watched the men sweep the 200 and the shot put. I told a teammate that I was so impressed last year when Louisville swept several events. And now, our men's team is doing the same thing.
"We grew a lot as a team and as individuals from indoor to the outdoor season. We kept our energy up and remained focused as a team.
"You can get wrapped up in individual stuff like personal records. But at the end of the day when you're at the conference meet, every point counts towards your team total. We did a good job of staying together."
Since the beginning of the indoor season, Dopek has been relentless invoking an all-for-one team theme. He realized the quickest way to build a dominant track program is having his student-athletes pulling for one another and gaining strength from a group dynamic.
"One of the main reasons why we did so much better this year was team camaraderie, which is something coach Dopek stressed to us," said Matt Babicz who finished 20th in the shot put at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. "We all believed in that and could see we were a more complete team this year.
"In past years, we were fighting to stay out of last place at the conference meet. It's such a different feeling going into a meet knowing you have a chance to win it. There was 100 percent more confidence this year. As we set records throughout the season, I could see us getting better and better. We were a close-knit group, and everyone wanted to match their teammates' success."
It was a success that continued on after the BIG EAST meet.
"We sent six athletes (Tayler Whittler, Jackie Kasal, MaShayla Kirksy, Melto, Babicz, and Trevor Kintyhtt) to the NCAA regionals, and that's the most since I've been here," Babicz said. "I was able to advance to the NCAA Championships and Mac Melto came close. Next year we'll have 12 going to regionals.
"We're very close to reaching phase one of our plan---winning the BIG EAST. Phase two is doing well at regionals and phase three is succeeding at the NCAA Championships. It's nice that people had the experience of qualifying for regionals.
"By qualifying for outdoor nationals, I am hoping to set an example for the rest of my teammates. It would be great if we had a bunch of Blue Demons qualifying for the NCAA finals.
"It would sure be nice to have a little company at the NCAAs next year."
That day is coming sooner than people think.
"There was a completely different vibe, and a message was sent out that it's going to be a dogfight from now on," Dopek said. "We are going to be a force with our sprinters, throwers and jumpers. Our distance runners are starting to step up and do as well as other schools.
"Our team wanted to set personal records and have individual success. But the culture of success we were striving for centered around the team. Competing for a conference championship coincided with my vision. Finishing second was the start to improving the stature of our program."
Track and field is on its way to fulfilling Dopek's master plan.
"This was the best season in the history of DePaul men's track and field," Dopek said. "Our goal is to become a national power. Before you can do that, you have to dominate your own conference. We have some work to do. But making it to the national finals is where you want to be."