While you were away

By Gus Bode

The holiday break was anything but restive for Saluki athletics.

While most students chilled at home, celebrated the year that passed and the year to come, and maybe earned some extra scratch for the spring semester, the men and women who don maroon and white stayed busy.

The men’s basketball team opened its break with a 10-point loss at Indiana University in front of a national audience on ESPN before running off five-straight victories. During the winning streak, the Salukis traveled to California for a much anticipated showdown with St. Mary’s, which like SIU has earned a national reputation as a tough, non-BCS draw for any opponent.

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The Salukis (13-4, 4-2 Missouri Valley Conference) opened their conference season with a road win at Illinois State before taking down the visiting Wichita State Shockers, a one-time top-10 team this season. The men split their once-a-season Iowa road trip with a win at Drake and a loss at always-tough Northern Iowa. SIU’s next game, at Bradley, marked the Salukis poorest offensive performance of the season in a 48-46 loss. SIU rallied from its first losing streak of the season by destroying Missouri State 76-56 at the Arena before the largest home crowd of the season.

Not to be outdone, the Saluki women’s basketball team continued its strong play on its way to a 9-8 record and a sterling 5-1 MVC mark, good for second place in the conference. The Salukis dropped a road game at Indiana University before reeling off three-straight wins, including two conference tilts. Most impressive was a 25-point, 63-38 rout of Missouri State on the road. SIU suffered its lone conference loss in a home game with conference-leading Illinois State but bounced back with three-straight wins, including a 24-point road victory at Bradley.

The Saluki men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams continued to impress as new members of the Sun Belt Conference. With wins over Northern Iowa and Evansville, the men ran their dual-meet record to 7-1 while the women followed suit on their way to a 6-3 dual-meet record.

Off the field, SIU’s baseball team inked three recruits – two pitchers and an outfielder – to play in 2008.

In football news, running back Arkee Whitlock was named the nation’s top offensive player as a member of the College Sporting News Fabulous FCS Fifty All-American All-Star team. Tight end Braden Jones and kicker Craig Coffin joined Whitlock on the all-star team. Jones, a senior, was also honored for his work in the classroom with a selection to the Football Championship Subdivision Athletic Directors Association Academic All-Star Team.

Five Salukis, including Whitlock, Coffin and Jones, were named All-Americans by the Sports Network, the premier Football Championship Subdivision publication in the nation. Whitlock and Coffin, both seniors, earned first-team honors while senior center Will Justice landed second-team recognition. Jones and senior defensive end Lorenzo Wims earned third-team selections.

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