Daily Egyptian

Saluki women tie at No. 9, tie best indoor team finish of all time

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

The Salukis sent seven individuals to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Indoor Championships this weekend and left with one national champion and five first-team All-Americans.

The women’s team finished tied with Louisiana State for ninth, the highest finish ever for an SIU indoor women’s team. The ninth place finish also tied the 1984 men for the best indoor finish in SIU history. SIU was led by national champion freshman shot putter Raven Saunders and senior weight throwers DeAnna Price and Sophia Lozano.

SIU’s women’s team entered competition at No. 20 in the nation and beat out teams from the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten and Big 12.

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“When you look at the list of schools behind us it is amazing,” coach Connie Price-Smith said. “We’re supposed to be a mid-major, but there were a lot of big schools behind us. It’s good to be where we’re at.”

Saunders became the first true freshman in available history—1999 and later—to win the women’s shot put title.

Saturday, Saunders became the 16th Saluki to win an NCAA championship, and the first since Jeneva McCall in 2012. Saunders won the event with a throw of 18.62 meters, which is a new personal record and again broke the all-time SIU, Missouri Valley Conference and American Junior records.

The Saluki women have won six NCAA individual championships, all by the throws team. Those six championships have all come in the last eight years under the direction of Price-Smith and throws coach John Smith, both former throwers.

Saunders’ winning toss was also the sixth-best throw in the world in 2015 and made her the first SIU and MVC female shot putter to throw for 61 feet.

Saunders entered the weekend No. 2 in the nation behind LSU senior Tori Bliss, who regained the lead last week at the SEC Championships.

Saunders took the lead on her first throw of the day and set personal records on her third and fourth throws. Bliss took the lead briefly on her fifth throw before Saunders regained the lead en route to the victory.  

“It was really exciting, the whole competition was,” Price-Smith said to Jeff Hartsnell of the Charleston Post and Courier. “I couldn’t even watch on (Bliss’s) last throw, I had to go hide.”

Saunders said she was happy to perform well with the tough competition this season.

“I knew I had a good chance to win, because this is everything I’ve been working for since I took up the sport,” she said. “I just tried to tell myself, ‘It’s just like high school. It’s just another year, and these are just other shot putters.’”

Friday, senior weight throwers Price and Lozano became the 147th and 148th first-team All-Americans in SIU history. They finished third and seventh, respectively at the NCAA championships.

Price threw a personal best of 22.04 meters to become the fifth Saluki woman to ever throw for 72 feet in the weight throw. Lozano threw for 20.79 meters on her first throw before fouling on four of her next five throws.

The duo are two of only six female Salukis to ever throw for more than 70 feet in the weight throw. They became the 71st and 72nd indoor first-team All-Americans and the 18th and 19th women in the category.

Price-Smith said she was proud of Price and Lozano for their performances.

“There were a lot of girls in the competition that could hit big throws at any time, so it was nerve wracking just sitting there and watching,” she said. “All I can say is that they went in and competed, unafraid and with the best in the nation.”

Sophomore Kyle Landon tied for seventh in the high jump, becoming the 150th All-American in SIU history. Landon finished with a height of 2.20 meters after failing at 2.23 meters.

Landon is the third male high jumper in SIU history to be an All-American in an indoor and outdoor season. The other two, Darrin Plab and Cameron Wright, were both Olympians. Landon also joins three Saluki Hall of Fame members—Bill Cornell, Oscar Moore and Michael Franks—as the only Saluki males to be All-Americans in each of their first two seasons.

Junior Josh Freeman finished eighth in the men’s shot put with a throw of 18.69 meters. Freeman earned first-team All-American status after finishing as a second-team All-American in the previous two national meets.

Freeman became the first male shot putter to become an All-American since throws coach John Smith did so in 1984. With his finish, Freeman also ensured the first time in SIU history the Salukis earned All-American honors in both men’s and women’s shot put in the same season.

Freshman pole valulter Lindsey Murray finished ninth with a height of 4.20 meters to earn a second-team All-American award. Her jump was only three inches shy of her personal record, which is also the best all-time vault at SIU.

The second-team All-American honor finishes off an indoor freshman season in which Murray became only the second female vaulter to break 14 feet in the history of the MVC.

Senior Ashley Gaston finished 13th in the shot put with a throw of 15.86 meters. She earned a second-team All-American award after being a two-time honorable mention All-American in 2014 for shot put and discus outdoors.

The Salukis begin the outdoor season at the Bill Cornell Spring Classic on March 27 at the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex.

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

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