Salukis face stiff test at historic meet

By Terrance Peacock

The Saluki track and field teams started their weekend with a record-breaking performance and went home with an event title from their top senior thrower during the 104th-annual Drake Relays.

More than 8,000 athletes from professional, collegiate and high school ranks traveled Thursday to Des Moines, Iowa, for the relays. Finalists and medalists from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were also present. The Salukis concluded their stay Saturday in front of a crowd of more than 14,000 spectators and ended with a handful of impressive performances, including an event win courtesy of senior thrower J.C. Lambert.

Lambert won his fourth hammer throw competition this season in as many attempts, but this was his first career Drake Relays victory. The all-time Missouri Valley Conference hammer throw leader won with a 66.92-meter final heave, six feet better than second place.

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Throwing coach John Smith said Lambert’s hammer-throw victory is a significant event for the SIU track program.

“Drake is a big meet, and it is nice to get a guy to win it,” he said. “(Lambert) is our first guy that has ever won the hammer there period, and that is going back for almost 50 years. Anytime you get a Drake win, it is a really good thing. It was one of his goals before he finished up at SIU.”

Lambert said his performance will better prepare him for meets later this season.

“I hope I will be in better technical shape that will hit farther throws that will get in the top three at nationals,” he said.

Head track coach Connie Price-Smith said Lambert’s approach to a meet is very professional.

“J.C. is a very determined individual, and he is self-motivated,” she said. “He is very focused and very driven, every time he practices or goes to a competition he brings that drive with him.”

Lambert said his future is already mentally planned out.

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“I am looking to stick around for at least another year and see how I do post-collegiately with training,” he said. “If I progress well enough and throw far, I will keep doing it. If I can’t progress, I will try and become a college coach.”

Smith said if there is anyone fit to compete after college, Lambert is one of those athletes.

“He can have a great post-collegitate career,” he said. “When you come out of college throwing over 70 meters, those are the kind of guys that should continue on and become hammer throwers.”

The women’s 4×1600-meter relay team composed of sophomores Sadie Darnell, Mobola Rotibi, Kelley Gallagher and junior Alyssa Allison broke SIU’s all-time event record Thursday but finished seventh at 20 minutes and 6.75 seconds — six seconds better than the previous all-time mark set in 2005.

The men’s 4×1600-meter relay team, which featured sophomores Oscar Medina, Juan Carrera, Cole Allison and senior Lucas Cherry, also finished seventh in the event at 17:23.07.

The Salukis maintained their pace Friday with four top 10 finishers, which included two in the collegiate women’s shot put.

Senior thrower Kim Fortney finished fourth in the women’s shot put with a 16.71-meter heave — a personal best.

Fortney finished behind Oklahoma’s senior Tia Brooks and Indiana State’s senior Felisha Johnson, the top two throwers in the nation. Her throw now stands as the 15th best in the country.

Sophomore Ashley Gaston also finished in the top 10 with a season-best 15.71-meter throw. Her heave placed her seventh in the competition.

Freshman thrower Josh Freeman placed sixth in the men’s shot put with a 17.72-meter launch. The University of Georgia took the top three spots with throwers all ranked in the top 10, but Freeman’s sixth place heave was not far behind.

Junior jumper Kenya Culmer also finished high for SIU with a season-best fourth-place finish in the women’s high jump. The Bahamian native cleared 1.76 meters and finished behind three student-athletes in the top-16 nationally.

Senior sprinter Tess Shubert continued the Salukis impressive performance at the Drake Relays in the highly competitive 400-meter hurdles. Shubert finished ninth overall with a personal-best time of 59.26 seconds — the second-best time in Saluki history. Shubert sits at 38th nationally in the event.

Price-Smith said the Drake Relays were a good test for SIU to see where it stands as the conference championship meet approaches.

“Drake is always a great place to compete at,” Price-Smith said. “The good thing is that the athletes got to go on the track and in the rings and on the runways, so when conference comes in two weeks there should be no surprises.”

The Salukis compete at home Saturday for the Saluki Outdoor Open, a final tune-up before the MVC Outdoor Championships begin May 9 in Des Moines, Iowa.

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