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Pepin Bringing Out the Nation’s Best . . . Again
Sixth-ranked Nebraska will host some of the nation’s best track and field athletes Friday and Saturday in the 33rd annual Frank Sevigne Invitational. Nearly 900 athletes from 22 colleges and universities, including 38 All-Americans and 35 NCAA national indoor event qualifiers, will converge at the Devaney Center.
The field includes two-time defending NCAA men’s outdoor champion Florida State, which is leaving the warmth of the South for the speed of Nebraska’s cushy, hydraulic indoor surface.
Why would the Seminoles make the trip North in the dead of winter?
“Because of Gary Pepin and his long-time commitment to excellence,” said T.J. Pierce, director of operations for the Nebraska men’s and women’s track program. “The Sevigne Invitational isn’t quite the Millrose Games (a professional indoor meet this weekend at New York’s Madison Square Garden), but it’s one of the crown jewels of the collegiate indoor season leading up to conference and NCAA meets.”
Pepin’s influence among his fellow coaches and athletes from coast-to-coast always has helped lure the nation’s best to Lincoln.
Epley Bullock and Dan Christensen, who flank NU Track Coach Gary Pepin, took different paths to All-America status.
In his 28th year at the helm, Pepin is the most decorated track coach in the history of the Big Eight and Big 12 Conferences. His women’s teams have won three indoor national championships. He’s been honored as both a Big 12 and a National Indoor Coach of the Year. He’s guided Nebraska track to 22 of its 28 top five NCAA team finishes. And he’s within months of equaling Sevigne as the longest tenured head coach in the history of the program.
Among the hundreds of athletes who will compete this weekend are Nebraska sophomore sprinter Dan Christensen and NU sophomore high jumper Epley Bullock. Both have taken decidedly different paths to All-America status.
Bullock was a highly recruited high jumper at Allen, Texas, and Christensen is a walk-on sprinter from Millard West.
Both said the gravitational pull to Lincoln can be summed up in two words . . . Gary Pepin. He has a way of bringing out the best in everyone, scholarship and non-scholarship athletes alike.
|2008 NCAA Qualifiers|
This weekend's Frank Sevigne Invitational features a number of athletes who have already qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in March
“I really didn’t have a great state track meet my senior year in high school, but Coach Pepin saw something in me,” offered Christensen, who earned All-America status as a freshman member of the Huskers’ 4X400 relay team.
“Iowa State offered me a full academic scholarship, but only a couple of smaller schools were interested in me for track. Coach Pepin told me if I worked hard and gave great effort, I could walk on. That’s all I needed. I knew about Nebraska’s tradition in track, and I wanted to be part of it. For me, it’s worth it to pay my own way to get the best in coaching and competition.”
Christensen is like so many other Nebraskans who walk on, work hard, get a chance, take advantage of it and then keep going.
“We liken Dan to the track version of the Makovicka family in football,” Pierce says. “All he wanted was an opportunity. When he got it, he went right to work. Our program has produced Olympic champion sprinters like Charlie Green and Merlene Ottey. But we’re just as proud of the men and women who walk on and overachieve. They’re all about the team.”
Bullock, who also earned All-America status last year as a freshman, came to Nebraska with great expectations. She was recruited by UCLA and Oregon, among others. “Nebraska is the only place I even considered,” she said, admitting that the Huskers always held the inside track because her parents graduated from Lincoln high schools – dad Ivan from Northeast and mom Diane from Southeast.
“My dad is a vice president of operations for State Farm Insurance, so I’ve lived in Illinois, California, Oregon, Colorado, Illinois and Texas, but we’ve always considered Nebraska home,” she said. “Both of my parents graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan, but we’ve been Cornhusker fans wherever we lived. I was raised on Nebraska football and every other Nebraska sport.”
Bullock’s great grandmother’s maiden name was Epley. “When I was little, I didn’t care much for it, but it’s grown on me,” she said. “Boyd Epley (former Nebraska strength and conditioning coach) is a distant cousin of mine, so I’ve always had a connection to Nebraska athletics.”
For Bullock, though, the real connection is Pepin. “Coach Pepin is so awesome,” she said. “I talked to a lot of coaches and was thinking about making several visits. But when he came to Texas and offered me a full ride, my recruiting was over. He made the difference. Even if he hadn’t offered me a scholarship, I probably still would have tried to come here.
“There’s just something about Coach Pepin. You can talk to him as a person, not just as a coach. It’s his personality. He’s a jokester, and he pushes you hard, but I love him. And I love Nebraska. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”