X Country: Winning on the field, in classroom

By Gus Bode

SIU’s best cross country runners are also the team’s best students.

Six Saluki cross country runners were named to the Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete Team earlier this month. To qualify for the team, all members must have at least a 3.0 grade point average.

The men’s team put two new members on the scholar-athlete team, including junior Kevin Doran and sophomore Mohamed Mohamed.


The women, however, return all four members of the 2005 scholar-athlete team, including seniors Katie Birn, Sarah Rinker and Lindsay Wagner as well as junior Brittani Christensen.

Head coach Matt Sparks said he runs a tight ship with his team when it comes to practice and getting good grades. He said the most important thing to him is having great athletes who double as great students.

“With this team, everything goes hand-in-hand,” Sparks said. “Most of our best runners are also our best students, and we also have some great success stories.”

One of the stories belongs to Mohamed, who came into SIU listed as an “at-risk” student.

Mohamed switched his major from architecture to business administration after his freshman year.

He now carries a 3.16 cumulative grade point average in the classroom along with an individual MVC title on the course.

Mohamed said the team fosters a positive academic atmosphere – thanks in large part to Sparks. He said the coaching staff does a good job of keeping runners in good academic standing.


“Coach usually requires about six to 10 hours per week (studying) for those who are under standards,” Mohamed said. “Most of the guys on the team already get good grades, but there is certainly a good system in place to help those who need it.”

The women’s team also features a top-notch student-athlete in Rinker.

Rinker has always been a good student and has been above grade standards since she came to SIU.

She said carrying a 3.91 grade point average while being counted on as a top runner is overwhelming at times. Rinker said she learned a lot about herself as a freshman.

“Time management – that has to be the biggest thing,” Rinker said. “It was really important to go to study tables my freshman year because that’s where I learned the skills I needed for it.”

Aside from academics, athletes find internships especially difficult to obtain. With the season stretching into the spring indoor season, internships are tough to fit into schedules.

Rinker said she is currently looking for an internship for the spring semester in social work, but it is difficult because she has to find one that can be scheduled around running.

“We have a great support system here,” Rinker said. “It’s hard work to fit everything in, but we’re learning a lot about who we are.”