Cross-country on the run with Saluki Invitational

By Gus Bode

The SIU cross-country team will race competitively for the third time this season as they host the Saluki Invitational.

The meet will begin 10 a.m. Saturday for women and the men will push ground at 10:45 a.m.  This is the third meet of the season for the Salukis, but it will be the team’s final home event. The Salukis will have two meets remaining before conference and national championship contention begins.

Senior runner Jamie Pfister said this race has a greater importance because it’s her final home meet.

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“I try to run every race like it’s my last race,” Pfister said. “But it’s going to be a special meet.”

From left, freshman Kelley Gallagher, freshman Tori Parry, and sophomore Eileen Schweiss stretch before running Wednesday at the cross-country course. SIU is hosting the Saluki Invitational at 10 a.m. Saturday. – Genna Ord | Daily Egyptian

Every year the meet brings in anywhere from six to 10 teams throughout the region. Competing teams this year include, Kaskaskia College, McKendree University, Millikin University, Southeast Missouri State, the University of Evansville and SIU.

For the women’s team, the underclassmen continue to play a large role with their top finishes in the first two meets.

Pfister said she has been impressed with how the freshmen have performed and the maturity level they’ve had as the season has progressed.

“The freshmen have all been stepping up (and) willing to take some leadership roles that usually freshmen aren’t asked to take” Pfister said.

Freshman runner Kelley Gallagher, top finisher for SIU at the Walt Crawford open Sept. 9, said she thinks the freshmen help bring consistency to the team.

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“I think we really put a lot of depth to the team,” Gallagher said. “I don’t think that many people expect to have a group of nine freshmen so close together, kind of like an x-factor, I think.”

Head coach Matt Sparks said of the visiting teams, SEMO brings a good challenge for the girls as both they and SIU have some question marks to answer in terms of who will make the most of opportunities.

“On paper it looks like SEMO will be a good a race for our women,” Sparks said. “Every week out is such a learning curve for the coaches and the athletes to see who we can count on and how they’re going to perform.”

Freshman runner Kristen Levi continues to be inactive for the meet with a foot injury. She had a first-place finish in the SIU Early Bird Sept. 2, but Sparks said he will have to decide on her role for the remainder of the season.

“She’s still having some foot problems,” Sparks said. “It’s looking like she’s probably not going to compete the rest of the year so we’ll try and get a medical redshirt for her.”

Gallagher said the injury has been difficult for her, but Levi continued to come to practice and support the team.

“It’s sad that she can’t race because we all are really close with her,” Gallagher said. “She’s kind of like a mini-coach … she’s always there cheering us on so she’s still there for us.”

Sparks said he will run top runners senior Neal Anderson, sophomores Lucas Cherry, Zach Dahleen and T.J. Heffernan for the first time this season.

“What we would consider four of our top five will be racing for the first time,” Sparks said. “Shaking some of the rust off those guys to see what their progression has been like since we last saw them race in the spring time.”

Sparks said from past experience for the men, SEMO and Evansville will provide strong competition.

“I know they (SEMO) always put a target on our back when they come race us, so we’ll have our eye on them as well,” Sparks said. “Evansville, obviously as a conference rival, has a couple individuals here and there, on the men’s and women’s side.”

When Sparks is at the finish line, he said he wants to see the Saluki uniforms cross the line within the first 5-10 runners.

 

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