Salukis on road for first time at Hoosier Relays

By Gus Bode

After a strong performance at the Saluki Booster last weekend, the SIU men’s and women’s track teams hope to have an equally impressive encore performance this weekend at the Hoosier Relays in Bloomington, Ind.

But it won’t be easy.

“It’s a big meet for us, bigger track, bigger atmosphere,” junior sprinter Felix Anderson said. “If we can run well at a meet like this, when it comes Valley conference time, guys will really come out and step up to the plate.”


This will be the first road meet of the season and the first in which there will be preliminary rounds, on Friday, with finals Saturday.

“I’d like to see all of our kids make it to the next day,” head coach Connie Price-Smith said.

SIU will be competing against 17 teams including Big Ten powerhouse and host school Indiana. There are a variety of competing programs, including Eastern Illinois, Rend Lake College, Southeast Missouri State and Western Kentucky.

Indiana’s men’s team is ranked third in the nation, but when asked about the level of competition the Salukis will face this weekend, Anderson said it doesn’t intimidate him.

“I don’t like the big names getting in my way or getting in my head,” he said. “If you don’t have maroon on, you’re different.”

Someone who is looking forward to the competition this weekend is junior thrower Amarachi Ukabam.

Ukabam tossed an NCAA automatic qualifying distance of 21.03m in the weight throw at the booster, breaking her own SIU record while simultaneously setting the Missouri Valley Conference record.


She also won the shot put, with a distance of 16.48m, which was off an NCAA automatic bid by only half a meter. Ukabam ranks fourth in the nation in both weight throw and shot put.

This weekend as Ukabam tries to climb the rankings, she will be encountering some familiar faces. Since Ukabam transferred from Big Ten member Ohio State, she has competed against many of Indiana’s throwers.

A fellow teammate who showed a lot of promise at the booster and hopes to improve this weekend is senior high jumper Freddy Rule. Last weekend Rule jumped a first-place 2.14m, which is roughly 7 feet. The provisional NCAA bid is at 2.17m, or about an inch higher than his mark last week.

The SIU field members are not the only ones attracting all of the attention. Last week in the 1600m run, Joe Byrne and Eli Baker placed first and second, respectively. However, that was not their usual race.

The seniors usually run the 3k, which they’ll be running this weekend.

“I’m looking forward to being back in the 3K,” said Byrne, who added he should come close to setting a new personal record.

Another first-place finisher from last week who is looking for a repeat performance are the women’s 4×400 relay team, consisting of sophomores April Heath, Marquita Vines and Sherlenia Greene and senior Kelsey Toussaint.

“Last week we ran OK,” Greene said. “We won, but our time wasn’t very fast, so hopefully with this competition our athletes will run faster.”

The Hoosier Relays will be the first meet without former SIU assistant coach Lawrence Johnson, who accepted a similar position at Virginia Tech. He left for the Hokies following last week’s booster, but he hasn’t completely shed his Saluki coat.

Johnson still sends daily workouts to the Salukis.

“With coach Johnson’s workout, we get faster every week,” Green said. “It’s kind of like he’s still here, except he’s not yelling.”

Reporter Steve Caulkins can be reached at [email protected]