Saluki seniors mesh in steeplechase

Saluki seniors mesh in steeplechase

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

What originally started as a race for horses transitioned into a race for distance runners and has cultivated success for the Salukis.

The steeplechase—according to the International Association of Athletics Federations—has origins in Britain when runners would race from town to town looking for church steeples as a visual marker and would inevitably run through streams and over low walls.

Steeplechase’s current format can be traced to Oxford University and its two-mile steeplechase runs in the mid-19th century.


The 3,000-meter running event also requires runners to jump 28 fixed barriers and seven water jumps during the race.

Senior Juan Carrera said runners need to accelerate before jumping into the water pit to avoid injury, but hitting the water is inevitable.

“Last weekend I didn’t do it how I should have, and now my Achilles [tendon] is hurt,” he said. “No matter what happens, even the best steeplechasers get their feet wet.”

Barrier heights—36 inches for men, 28 inches for women—are the only aspect of the race that is different between men and women.

Distance coach David Beauchem said he looks for athleticism and health for the event.

“Some [athleticism] comes from cross-country and some of it comes from athleticism outside of running,” he said. “You can’t steeplechase and jump if you’ve had injury problems.”

Beauchem said senior Krista Menghini, who came to SIU on a volleyball scholarship, exemplifies the athleticism needed for the event.


Menghini—the all-time No. 1 women’s steeplechaser at SIU—said she did not know what the event was in high school.

“I had seen it once or twice, but I never thought it was something I was going to do,” she said. “When I came to college my coach [Matt Sparks] said because I was tall I could probably jump.”

With a time of 10:12.54, Menghini finished second at last year’s MVC Championship to improve on her 2013 finish of sixth at the event. By placing second last year, Menghini received All-MVC honors and would go on to compete at the NCAA West Region Prelims where she finished 17th.

Menghini said with Beauchem in his first year as the SIU distance coach, the training has changed and although it is extra work, she does not mind.

“After regular runs we’ll practice technique and hurdles,” she said. “I don’t see it as, ‘I have to do so much extra work’ because I love the event and it is so fun for me. I see it as a treat whenever I get to do the hurdles and water jump.”

Menghini and senior Sadie Darnell are among the top-10 all-time at SIU. All 10 places have been set since 2005 and coached by Sparks.

Sparks said Menghini and Darnell worked well together because of their running similarities and they were able to push each other.

“Their 3,000-meter times were nearly identical so when it came time to race we worked on hurdling efficiently,” he said. “When you have a person you can run next to when you’re hurdling you’ll keep the same momentum and energy over the top of the barrier. They fed off each other in that way.”

Darnell is currently No. 2 all-time at SIU with a time of 10:23.11 to finish fourth in last year’s MVC Championship. Like Menghini, Darnell competed in the NCAA West Region Prelims where she would finish 33rd. In 2013 Darnell finished fourth at the MVC Championships, setting a then-SIU record of 10:32.84.

Darnell said steeplechase does not compare to other events.

“You’re so fatigued from running, and then you have to jump too,” she said. “I like the barriers because it mixes it up and you’re not just running.”

Coach Connie Price-Smith said she is proud of the effort by Menghini and Darnell.

“They do a great job at it,” she said. “They’re going to get better and faster as the year goes on.”

On the men’s side, the top 10 consists of athletes from 1975 to 2010. The SIU trends coincide with the history of steeplechase in the Olympics. The men have run the event since 1920, while the women started competing in 2008 at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

Carrera finished sixth in the MVC last season with a time of 9:13.36, nearly 10 seconds behind cracking the top-10 all-time at SIU. The most recent Saluki to do so was Jason Ordway in 2010 with a time of 9:00.84 for No. 8 all-time.

Carrera said freshman year, his first experience with the event, was the only time he did not look forward to steeplechase.

“I enjoy training on my own [for the event],” he said. “It’s my own little world I’m going into.”

Sparks said if Carrera stays mentally strong through the event, he will be more successful.

“[Carrera] mentally falls apart in the middle of the races,” he said. “He always finishes really strong but the middle part of the race is weak and that’s a barrier he has to overcome.”

The Salukis compete next at the Big Blue Classic on Saturday in Charleston.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.