There’s no wasted space in the trophy case at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It’s quite a sight, all that hardware packed in together. By any yardstick, Deb Vercauteren’s career is one of the most rewarding in the history of NCAA athletics. Since becoming the first women’s cross country coach at Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1981, Vercauteren has guided the Titans to 17 NCAA Division III team titles.
Vercauteren’s national championships are divided fairly equally among the seasons – four in the fall (cross country), six in the winter (indoor track & field), and seven in the spring (outdoor track & field). With those kinds of results, it’s not surprising that Vercauteren has also garnered 31 conference and national Coach of the Year awards during her tenure and been inducted into the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Athletics and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) District 14 Halls of Fame.
Vercauteren, a Wisconsin native, received a bachelor’s degree from UW-Stevens Point in 1976 and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1980. In 1981, Wisconsin-Oshkosh dropped women’s badminton and replaced it with cross country. Vercauteren was hired to coach the new program. Her first team finished seventh at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Championships. Since then, Vercauteren has won 15 WIAC titles in cross country.
The Titans won their first NCAA cross country title in 1987 and collected additional national championships in 1988, 1991, and 1996. Oshkosh finished as runners-up in 1989, 1990, and 1995. Under Vercauteren, individual harriers have won two national cross country titles and earned 38 All American awards. In 2005, Vercauteren was selected by the USTFCCCA as the NCAA Division III Women’s Cross Country Silver Anniversary Coach. The award was given in conjunction with the NCAA’s 25-year celebration of sponsoring women’s sports.
Under Vercauteren’s leadership, Oshkosh has experienced tremendous success indoors, as well. The Titans won NCAA Division III Indoor Track & field titles in 1994-96 and 2004-06 and finished as runners-up in 1990-92 and 2002. Individual athletes have won 21 national titles and 117 All American awards. Also, the Titan women have earned 11 WIAC titles and nine WIAC runner-up finishes indoors.
The Titans have been equally as successful outdoors, winning national championships in 1990-91, 1995-97, 2004, and 2006 and finishing as runners-up in 1989, 1992, 1994, and 2005. At the conference level, Vercauteren’s teams have won ten WIAC championships and finished as runner-up at another ten championships. Individual athletes have won 171 All American awards, 22 national titles, and one relay title.
She is married to John Zupanc, the head men’s cross country coach and head men’s track & field coach at UW-Oshkosh. In addition to her coaching duties, Vercauteren also serves as the assistant director of athletics at UW-Oshkosh.