Saluki runners to separate Saturday

By Gus Bode

Byrne named MVC athlete of the week for second time

Matt Sparks, head coach for both of SIU’s cross country teams, will be a busy man this weekend.

The men’s and women’s teams will be divided Saturday, with the men competing in the Pre-NCAA Championship event at Terre Haute, Ind., and the women traveling to Evansville.


Sparks will shuttle between the two towns, training with the men Friday evening and driving to Evansville to coach the women Saturday in their 11 a.m. race. Immediately after the women’s event, Sparks will hurry back to Terre Haute for the men’s 2 p.m. competition.

The main reason for the manic shuffling of the teams is to build confidence for the Missouri Valley Conference championships, Oct. 30 at SIU. Sparks said splitting up the teams and choosing these particular meets should foster that concept.

There will be three separate races for the men at Terre Haute – a blue, white and open race. The blue and white races are the more competitive events the Salukis were invited to.

However, Sparks opted for the open race in an effort to keep the Salukis fresh for the championships.

It’s a strategy MVC rival Indiana State won’t follow. Its men’s team will be competing in one of the faster races, something Sparks said could demoralize or empower it, depending upon its performance.

“Our prime objective is to be confident going into conference,” Sparks said. “It would be better on our psyche to run in – and try to win – the open race.”

Joe Byrne, after receiving his second MVC Athlete of the Week award this season, will lead the Salukis in the open race. The junior finished first out of 96 runners at last Saturday’s Saluki Invitational.


Sparks said the award gives Byrne, as well as everyone on the team, a great deal of confidence going into Saturday’s event.

Eli Baker, a senior on the men’s team, viewed the honor as showing the caliber of the men’s program.

“It’s definitely a positive,” Baker said. “It shows that we are headed in the right direction.”

On the women’s side, senior Noa Beitler will be absent from Saturday’s competition at Evansville. Beitler flew to her home in Israel Wednesday due to an illness in her family.

Aside from that, the women’s team is healthy and ready to compete.

Sophomore Brittani Christensen is coming off a strong fourth-place finish at the Saluki Invitational, where she missed third by a mere second to Indiana State’s Laura Engle.

Engle was subsequently named the MVC Female Athlete of the Week, something Sparks said will factor into Christensen’s performance Saturday as well as at the conference meet.

“She said it didn’t bother her, and I don’t want it to,” Sparks said. “I think it will probably motivate her.”

Sparks is looking for the women to take the top-five spots in Evansville.

“This is the kind of event we need before the conference meet,” Sparks said. “The women just need to go out and beat some teams up.”