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Chaparral Athletics Takes Home Learfield Director’s Cup For First Time in COD History

The College of DuPage athletics program was ranked as the top in the nation to win the Learfield Director’s Cup.
Charlie Minch

For the first time in its history, the College of DuPage athletic program won the 2022-2023 Learfield Director’s Cup. Colleges from all over the country compete for the Learfield Director’s Cup annually, and it’s awarded to whichever institution in each division has the most success in athletics. COD received the award at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Convention alongside the other NCAA and NAIA winners in Orlando, Fla.

“It will probably go down as the greatest professional achievement of my career,” COD Director of Athletics and Recreational Programs Ryan Kaiser said. “Those Learfield Cups are extremely difficult to win. We compete against almost 600 junior colleges across the country for this award. Last year we had an unbelievable, magical season. After we won the three national championships in three weeks in the fall, I knew that there was a shot that we might [win].”

The Learfield Director’s Cup is earned through a point system; the better a team does on a national level, the more points they earn for their school. COD won with a total of 188.5 points, beating runner-up Rowan College of South Jersey-Gloucester County by five and a half points. Through last year, COD won four NJCAA national titles and totaled six top-three finishes in national championship competitions.

“It’s not just the teams that win national titles that score you points,” Kaiser said. “It’s the ones like women’s tennis who went to their national championship, and even though they won one match there, they scored points for us. It takes everybody in an athletic department each trying to do their very best so that overall these point totals can add up.”

In the Cup’s 12-year history, COD became the second non-scholarship program to bring home the prestigious award. Kaiser attributed the win to the Chaparral coaches and athletes who bought into the mindset of constantly trying to improve.

“Nobody goes into their athletic year thinking that they can win [the Learfield Cup],” he said. “Maybe institutions that have won it before, but not institutions that don’t have athletic scholarships. These other institutions are buying kids and bringing them in on scholarship. They also have living facilities, meal plans, like ‘how can we compete against that,’ but we did. I think that’s the thing that I’m just so proud of. We’ve done something that this school has never seen before. I’m just the one guiding the ship in the right direction. It’s these coaches. It’s these athletes. We were able to stand on their shoulders and be recognized for their efforts and their achievements.”

Assistant Athletic Director Rich Dawkins accepted the award on behalf of COD Athletics at the NACDA Convention in June. He said that representing the department at the ceremony as one of the highlights of his athletic administrative career.

“It was an honor,” Dawkins said. “I’ve been doing this, athletic administration at the junior college level, for just about 20 years now. The Learfield Cup is something that I think every athletic department strives for. It shows not only the success of one or two or three sports but the entire department.

“To represent our administration, and to represent [Kaiser], but more importantly represent our coaches and student athletes was an honor of a lifetime,” he said. “To be up there in front of every athletic department in the nation, and to be able to be there on behalf of College of DuPage and accept that award was a dream come true.”

The first of the national championship wins came from the women’s volleyball team, and the banner unveiling happened Oct. 17 before their sophomore night this season. Head volleyball coach Tolis Koskinaris said the team and himself were proud to be a part of the win by securing the national championship last year.

“I’m happy for the department, and happy for [Kaiser, Dawkins, Assistant Athletic Director Kelsey Plefka] and all of the administrators involved,” he said. “I know it’s a big deal for them. It’s a very rare thing, and very difficult to accomplish. Apparently we had a hand in it, and that’s awesome.”

He commented on the commitment COD athletes have to playing their sport without having a scholarship because of it.

“It’s no doubt an uphill battle when you’re non-scholarship,” Koskinaris said. “Players are in essence committing to your program because they want to be there without really getting much in return. They could walk at anytime. At a non-scholarship institution, there’s really not much you can do about that. At scholarship institutions, if they’re playing that’s how they get their tuition. It’s hard, and that’s the part that’s really cool, there’s no doubt about it.”

Sophomore libero Cyd Martinez played for the women’s volleyball national championship team last season. She said being part of winning the Learfield Director’s Cup for COD was the athletes’ way of thanking the athletic department.

“I feel like the athletic department help us as athletes so much,” Martinez said. “We in return perform at such a high level as a college. I feel like it’s a way of us giving back to how hard the department works. They always cater to our needs, and they’ll help us out whenever we need it. [Athletes and the department], we worked together to get the Learfield Cup.”

Martinez described the difference between being a non-scholarship athlete against other scholarship schools.

“We are here solely as athletes because we want to be here,” she said. “We chose to be here, not because we’re getting something in return. That hard work and dedication actually comes from the heart. I just think it shows that at any level, at any college, especially COD you can succeed in so many ways without outside factors. I’m just very proud of what we accomplished as school in the past year.”

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