Van Eps Nominated for Champions of Character Award
- Posted Wednesday, September 15, 2021
(Wednesday, September 15; Sioux Center, Iowa) Within the four coordinates of The Defender Way, Dordt University’s athletic department mission, are commitments to academic development and the pursuit of championships. Matthew Van Eps, a 2021 Dordt graduate, pursued both successfully. He finished with a 3.75 GPA in Engineering to go along with his success on the track, winning five NAIA National Championships and earning NAIA All-American honors 11 times. Van Eps has been nominated for the Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award, which is given to student-athletes who excel academically, athletically and in servant leadership.
Each NAIA conference nominates a student-athlete for the Champions of Character Award. Van Eps was chosen as the representative from the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC), the sole nominee across all men’s and women’s varsity sports. Each conference’s nominee then submits an essay, a resume of academic, athletic and community achievements, along with letters of recommendation. The national award winner will be recognized at the NAIA National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri in April 2022.
“Matthew represents the very best about small college athletics in that he is well-rounded in all phases of his life. While it is hard to compare athletes from different eras and different sports, there is no doubt that Matthew’s impact and accomplishments on the track put him in elite company and among the best to ever wear a Defender uniform. Beyond that, Matthew’s leadership empowered and affirmed so many of his teammates and classmates,” said Ross Douma, Dordt’s Director of Athletics.
His athletic success began during his freshman season, as Van Eps earned GPAC All-Conference honors in individual and relay events. He was on three teams that won GPAC championships in indoor and outdoor relays to go along with an All-Conference finish individually in the outdoor 400 meters.
It was in his sophomore season that Matthew first competed nationally at the NAIA indoor championships in Brookings, South Dakota. To go along with a second-place finish in the 4x800 M, Van Eps was named an All-American after finishing fifth in the 600 meter race, an event in which he was previously the GPAC Champion. During the outdoor season, he won his first NAIA National Championship as part of a 4x800 relay team. The next day, while running in the 800 meters, he became the first Dordt track and field athlete to win an individual national title.
The new success found on the track changed Matthew’s approach to competition in the following two seasons. “My teammates who knew me before my junior and senior year would probably say that I came back more focused and intense after winning a national championship. I knew exactly what I had to do, then went out and did it, which I may not have done my freshman and sophomore year,” said Van Eps.
More focused and more experienced, Van Eps continued his dominance in the 800 M on the national stage, winning three straight national titles in the event. Following his 2019 national title in the event, he had the top times at the 2020 and 2021 indoor NAIA National Championships. His final 800 meter race at the 2021 outdoor championships culminated with a second-place finish in addition to being on the 4x800 first-place team.
After his storied career with the Dordt Defenders, Matthew Van Eps finished with a total of five NAIA National Championships, 14 GPAC Championships, and many more All-American and All-Conference honors.
“Matthew is on the short list of athletes to be considered the best to wear a Dordt uniform in any sport. To consider he accomplished what he did while losing a prime season, it makes it that much more impressive,” Mike Byker, Director of Athletic Communications, said of the athletic career of Van Eps.
The Champions of Character Award not only recognizes the athletic accomplishments of student-athletes but is also a mark of academic and personal achievement. After graduating with a 3.75 GPA in Electrical Engineering, he began working at Nova-Tech Engineering in Minnesota. He was devotions leader on the track team and was also a leader for team service projects.
Faculty Athletics Representative Dale Zevenbergen spoke to Matthew’s academic and personal growth at Dordt, saying, “Matthew’s faith drives his character and his heart for serving others. His professors describe him as an encouraging and cooperative classmate, and other references testify to his faith and character shining through in his daily life.”
These remarks, among others, provide a glimpse into the impact that Matthew Van Eps had on the Dordt community, whether it was academically, athletically, or spiritually. Preparing for a life of service beyond the playing field is an integral part of The Defender Way. As impressive and historic as athletic achievements are, it is what student-athletes do with that platform that has a lasting impact.