Release courtesy of Concordia Chicago athletics communications
RIVER FOREST, Ill. --- In staffing changes announced by the Concordia University Chicago Athletics Department today, Phil Kopinski will move into the position of head coach for men's and women's cross-country, effective immediately. Assuming the position of head coach for men's and women's track and field will be Steve Belanger, who will officially begin his duties on July 29.
Kopinski came to CUC in 2013 and has coached the track and field team for the past six years, a tenure which includes nine All-American honors over the last two years and a conference Coach of the Year honor in 2018. A deep passion for long-distance running is one factor in his shifting of positions, as Kopinski's history includes 10 years (2003-2012) as head coach for cross-country at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
During that time, the Scarlet Hawks' achievements included 27 NAIA National Championship qualifiers and 38 All-CCAC selections, CCAC Women's Runners of the Year in 2008 and 2012, a men's conference championship team in 2004, and IIT's first cross-country All-American in 2012. Kopinski will continue as an assistant coach for CUC's track and field team, working with the distance runners.
Belanger, a Connecticut native, comes to Concordia Chicago from an NCAA Division I background. He was an assistant track and field/cross-country coach at Boston College this past year and, prior to that, held the same positions at Quinnipiac University (CT) for eight years. His position at CUC will be his first as a head coach at the collegiate level.
"My family and I are extremely excited about moving to Chicago and taking on this new challenge," said Belanger. "Thanks to both Phil Kopinski's and (CUC director of athletics) Pete Gnan's hard work, and a great coaching staff already in place, this Cougars program is well established. With a team effort, I look forward to continuing to build and further this team's success." While CUC will be Belanger's first experience with a Division III situation, he does not anticipate a big difference in his philosophy of recruiting potential student-athletes. "My belief is that track and field is more about heart and desire, and that if a student-athlete wants to make the sacrifices and put in the work to get where they want to be, that ultimately defines success."
Belanger's time at Quinnipiac was a fruitful one for a program that became Division I only two decades ago. He recruited and signed 14 high school state champions and five New England champions. Belanger had a major role in the development of 29 event conference champions, six New England champions, 57 Eastern College Athletic Conference qualifiers, five ECAC champions (the ECAC has 87 Division I members), five NCAA Division I East Regional Championship qualifiers and the first national-qualifying sprinter, hurdler and jumper in the school's history. The team finished as runners-up in the 2015, 2016 and 2018 conference championships (with seventh place being the team's previous best finish). In addition, the Bobcats were successful in the classroom with eight All-Academic Team designations and a 3.55 average GPA, which was in the top 10 percent among all Division I track and field teams.
Belanger competed in track and field at Newington (CT) High School and Central Connecticut State University as a sprinter and jumper. He also "dabbled" in the decathlon, something that helped him foster "a deep appreciation for all the events." An injury cut short his competitive career but also turned his interest to coaching track and field. He returned to his alma mater and led the Newington program for three years, helping them to 10 school records and three individual class state champions.
Belanger is a USA Track & Field Sprints/Hurdles/Relays Level 2 certified coach and USATF National Level certified official. In addition to 10 years of track experience, Belanger also worked as a volunteer firefighter between 2007 and 2011 for the town of Newington and is a state-certified firefighter.
Belanger earned his B.S. in industrial technology with specializations in environmental and occupational safety from Central Connecticut State University in 2010.