Blue Demons Will Be Running With a Pack Mentality
Aug. 28, 2012
CHICAGO - As Dave Dopek was getting off the bus before a track meet at Memphis State during his heralded career at DePaul, his roommate tapped him on the shoulder and said: "Check out the expressions on those guys' faces over there."
There were looks of disappointment among the other athletes.
"All those guys were hoping you weren't going to show up," the roommate said. "Now they know nobody has a chance in the 200m and 400m."
Dopek is DePaul's singular NCAA champion by virtue of winning the 200-meter dash at the 1995 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Now as head coach of the track and field and cross country programs, Dopek wants the Blue Demons to elicit that same reaction.
"That's the kind of looks I want from opposing teams when DePaul's cross country and track teams get off the bus," Dopek said as cross country commences its season Friday at the Early Bird Invitational in Elmhurst. "I'm quite sure those are the looks our softball team and women's basketball team receive when they show up for games.
"It's like: `OK, we better bring our A game today.'
"Kids have to buy into that. You're not on the team just to run and set a personal record.
"You're out there to represent. You've got DePaul written across your jersey. You're representing yourself, your coaches, your family and friends. It's difficult to get the 60 or so athletes on cross country and track all on the same page. You do that by recognizing we all represent something."
Dopek wants opponents to save their best for DePaul.
"I see it around men's and women's soccer. The kids call it swagger. It's all around the women's basketball and softball teams, and men's basketball is picking it up.
"The nature of our entire athletic program is on the rise, and I want to make sure track and cross country rise up to the same heights. We had three All-Americans in track last season, and we have to keep it going."
The cross country team will have a different look in 2012.
"Cross country is going to be a different animal this season," Dopek said. "The last four years, it was a creature with a very large head named Matthew Graham and a thinning tail.
"This year, the men and women are going to be running with a pack mentality. Eddie McDaniel and Max Rodrigues are healthy again. I'm looking for good seasons from Chris Miedema, Zak Koronkiewicz and Tyler Schmitt. We have some talented newcomers in Andrew Diehn and Ryan Van Fossen.
"The women's team will have a smaller roster with a lot of talent. Michelle Allen is from the United Kingdom, and I'm hoping she can lead us in her own way. Jacqueline Kasal had an outstanding outdoor track season in the steeplechase, and I'm confident that will carry over into cross country.
A successful 2012 season will require a concerted team effort.
"There hasn't been enough of a team element in the past," Dopek said. "You have to want to win for your teammate standing on the line next to you.
"Pack running gives you a sense of confidence and a confirmation that you're doing what you should be doing. You push one another to improve.
"We have a lot of people who have similar talent, and we are looking to have a big pack near the top. That's how you score well. We need five guys to cross the line between No. 40 and No. 49 to make up for the one guy (Graham) who has graduated."
In his mind, Dopek knows where he wants to take the Blue Demon program.
"The men's team came in ninth out of 14 teams at the BIG EAST Championship last year, and we need to do a lot better," Dopek said. "I'd like to see us finish in the top half of the conference. On paper, the potential is there. It's time to go.
"The women were No. 14 out of 16, and we want to move up a lot. The talent we have in our program is not indicative of a 14th-place team. Injuries slowed us down last season. I'd like to see us move into the top 10 this year.
"This is the final year of the BIG EAST in its current format. We need to take a step up before the new teams come in."
That could happen thanks to the infusion of talent Dopek has brought into Lincoln Park.
"I'm looking forward to seeing my first two recruiting classes healthy for the first time and seeing what they can accomplish," Dopek said. "This year we're going to teach the cross country athletes how to be a team and run together.
"We Are DePaul---at some point that has to come across."