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Cross Country teams building momentum ahead of MVC Championships

October 11, 2012

By Tyler Wooten
Saluki Media Services

SIU’s men’s and women’s cross country squads have one more tuneup meet before the MVC Championships in Normal, Ill. on Oct. 27. This week, the teams will travel to Peoria for the Bradley Classic on Friday. With Valley schools Bradley, Creighton, Drake and Illinois State also competing, the meet will be a good benchmark heading into the championships.

The Southern Illinois men’s cross country program was picked to win the Valley title in 2012, and it’s not hard to see why. Under head coach Matt Sparks, Saluki cross country has had significant success in the past decade. Here are some accomplishments under Sparks since 2004:

The Salukis have won three MVC titles under head coach Matt Sparks.

– Southern became the winningest men’s cross country program in MVC history with 12 team championships, three of which were won this decade under Sparks (2004, 2007, 2008).

– SIU added two All-Americans (Jeff Schirmer, 2008 and 2009) bringing its all-time total to 11.

– Sparks coached four individual MVC champions (Mohamed Mohamed, 2006; Jeff Schirmer, 2007 and 2008; Dan Dunbar, 2010), pushing Southern’s all-time total to 11.

The Salukis are off to yet another impressive start, which included two-straight team wins in September. Southern swept both men’s and women’s titles at the EIU Walt Crawford Open on Sept. 7, and the Saluki Invitational on Sep. 22. In those races, SIU grabbed three individual titles, losing only the men’s 8K to UNI’s Brett Egan in the Saluki Invitational.

– Of their three scored meets, the Saluki men have had at least four runners in the top 20, and when they stay packed together it normally means a Southern victory. At the EIU Walt Crawford Open, Saluki men took the top four spots (unattached freshman Brandon Shemonia placed fifth), and at the Saluki Invitational, Southern technically held positions 2-12 (sixth and seventh were taken by unattached runners Shemonia and Neal Anderson).

– Southern has a talented group of young runners on the squad. Saluki underclassmen — sophomores Evan Ehrenheim and Nick Schrader, and freshmen Juan Carrera and Oscar Medina — have notched eight top-10 finishes and one win (Nick Schrader, EIU Walt Crawford Open) in three scored meets.

– The upperclassmen (juniors Zach Dahleen and Brian Dixon) have not disappointed in their performances, either. Both athletes have only run the last two races (Saluki Invitational and Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational), but they’ve both posted top-10 finishes in each race. Those top-10 finishes were the clinchers in Southern taking second place in the highly competitive field at the Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational in Chicago on Sept. 29.

– At the Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational, Southern finished behind only one team — No. 1-ranked Wisconsin. The Salukis lost to the best team in the country by only 11 points. If not for an equipment malfunction for freshman Juan Carrera, the Salukis could have had a shot at upsetting the Badgers. Southern finished ahead of Purdue (3rd) and conference foe Northern Iowa (7th).

The women’s cross country team is also showing signs of progress.

– In the women’s two team victories at the EIU Walt Crawford Open and the Saluki Invitational, Southern posted four and six runners in the top 10, respectively.

– Sophomore Sadie Darnell has dominated in her two victories this season. Her wins in the 4K at the SIU Early Bird (unscored) and the 5K at the Saluki Invitational were by a wide margin en route to Saluki team victories. Darnell has an impressive average margin of victory of 8.5 seconds in her two wins. In addition, Darnell has finished outside of the top six only once (46th of 514 at the Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational), and she was named the MVC’s Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Week Sept. 25.

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