Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
A lot can change in a year, and Duquesne athletic director Dave Harper is living proof of that as he approaches the one-year mark of his reign at Duquesne.
Since Harper took over as the head of Duquesne Athletics, the overall success of the athletic programs has increased drastically. Over the course of the 2015-16 school year, Duquesne had five teams finish as either conference champions or runners-up. The year before Harper took over, only the men’s and women’s cross country teams could boast that feat.
“Everybody has put in a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of purposeful thought, and we have had some great competitive results,” Harper said. “That’s a credit to our overall team, our coaches and our student-athletes.”
However, Harper doesn’t just have his eyes set on producing immediate results on the field. He, along with his staff, are committed to taking a strategic approach to improving the state of Duquesne Athletics as a whole.
“We need to become a highly valued member of the Atlantic 10 Conference,” Harper said. “That’s our strategic framework. When you use that as your framework, it drives everything that you do.”
Harper described his first year as athletic director as “energizing” and “educational” as he and his team set out to create and develop a set of goals that would improve Duquesne Athletics over the course of the next few years. The staff dedicated a great deal of time toward critical strategic objectives, academic achievement and excellence on the playing fields.
Now it’s time to start executing those plans they have developed and to start really pushing toward their goals as an athletics department, according to Harper. One of those key objectives they identified was “acquiring, retaining and growing strong performers.”
This was evident in the beginning of the 2015-16 school year when the athletic department extended the contracts of quite a few coaches including Dan Burt (Women’s Basketball), Al Alvine (Women’s Soccer), Jerry Schmitt (Football) and Dave Sheets (Swimming).
Both the football team and the women’s soccer squad won conference championships in 2015, while the swimming team finished a school best second at the A-10 Championships. Under the direction of Burt, the women’s basketball team finished as runners up in the A-10 and qualified for the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament, in which it picked up its first victory in the “Big Dance.”
Harper said he wants coaches to know they will be rewarded for athletic success, but he also made it clear that each of the programs is in a different place, so success is defined in various ways on a yearly basis for each team.
One of the teams at a different place than its championship counterparts is the men’s basketball program. It’s no secret that the A-10 is a basketball conference and Harper acknowledged the reality that Duquesne’s men’s basketball program must start showing progress toward the ultimate goal of clinching a spot in an NCAA tournament for the first time since 1977.
“We have got to move and position ourselves better in the A-10 standings,” Harper said, “We have got to position ourselves better in the Atlantic 10 tournament and those incremental steps are what Coach Ferry works toward everyday.”
Improving the men’s basketball program is one of the focal points of the department’s strategic plan along with athletic and academic performance and creating a broad based sports program.
Finally, Harper hopes that the students will begin to get on board and support their fellow Dukes by attending the sporting events and hopes that they will enjoy themselves in the process.
“The students can make the biggest difference at the games sometimes — they control it,” Harper said.
Increasing attendance is another goal for the athletics department as it added a new director of marketing and branding, Megan Jahrling, who aims to make athletics a bigger part of student life.
Harper has already begun to create change within Duquesne Athletics and he has a plan to continue developing Duquesne into the highly valued member of the A-10 that Harper and his counterparts aspire for it to be.
“I have been blessed,” Harper said. “We have a tremendous group of student athletes, we have a tremendous group of coaches and we have got tremendous staff — and my job, quite simply put, is to facilitate their success.”