Cross-country men clinch MVC title

By Demario Smith-Phipps

Women’s team takes third place in conference overall

 While the Saluki women took third, the Saluki men’s cross-country team won its first Missouri Valley Conference title in four years at the State Farm MVC Cross-Country Championship Saturday in Normal.

Junior Zach Dahleen was the Saluki lead runner as he notched second place with a time of 24 minutes, 25 seconds. Dahleen has been consistent and reliable for his team this year, finishing in the top 10 of every race he has participated in. This is also his third year finishing in the top 15 of the State Farm meet.


Junior Brian Dixon was able to improve from his seventh-place finish at the Bradley Classic to sixth at the MVC championships. His time of 24:42 was his second best finish of the season.

Coach Matt Sparks said the Salukis won as a team because they ran like one.

“We didn’t have the individual first-place winner, which makes it more difficult to win this race,” Sparks said. “The guys ran together as a unit and made up for not having the best individual time out there.”

Freshmen Juan Carrera and Oscar Medina and sophomore Nick Schrader also finished within the top 10. Carrera’s time of 24:52 was enough to lock in 10th place, while Medina concluded the day in ninth at of 24:49, and Schrader managed seventh place with a 24:43.

Medina said the rest of the team was able to energize the front-runners.

“Our other guys also did a really good job,” he said. “Even though their scores didn’t count, they were able to knock players from other teams down a spot because they were out there giving it their all. We all work together, and our motivational level is very high right now.”

Sparks said this team is very different from the other championship teams he has coached at SIU.


“We have never been this deep but be so young at the same time,” he said. “We had two freshmen in the top 10. Our young guys are proving that they can run like veterans.”

All five of the top 10 southern Illinois runners  received All-MVC honors, which makes a second-straight All-MVC honor for Dahleen and Dixon.

Sophomore Evan Ehrenheim and junior Lucas Cherry placed in the top 20 of 68 with finishes of 19th at 25:13 and 20th at 25:19 respectively.

The women’s team also ended its conference season well and notched a third-place finish at the MVC championships. This is the fourth of five meets the Saluki women finished in the top three.

Sparks said both of his teams were able to feed off each other’s success.

“This is the women’s best finish since 2006,” he said. “All year I’ve seen both teams do well because they were so positive and happy for the other squad.”

Sophomore Sadie Darnell led the way for the Saluki women, finishing 11th with a time of 18:20. Darnell has had the best finish for the Salukis in four of the five meets this year, winning both the Saluki Early Bird and the Saluki Invitational.

“She has had a breakout track season, so Sadie was able to carry that momentum into cross-country,” Sparks said.

Darnell, winner of the MVC women’s cross-country Athlete of the Week for the week of Sept. 25, has an 8.5 second average victory margin in her wins this year.

Freshmen Kelley Gallagher (15th) and Kristen Levi (18th) and sophomores Alyssa Allison (24th) and Lacey Gibson (28th) all finished within the top 30 with times of 18:05, 18:10, 18:20 and 18:34 respectively.

Gibson said the team exceeded expectations even though it didn’t win the championship.

“We were picked to finish outside of the top three in conference before the season started,” she said. “It feels good to prove them wrong.”

The Salukis will travel to Springfield, Mo., for the NCAA Midwest Regional Nov. 10.