Salukis earn academic honors after making history

By Symone Woolridge

After bringing home two Missouri Valley Conference championships, seven SIU cross country runners were declared MVC Scholar-Athletes, making history yet again with the most honorees the team has ever had.

Six women and one man have held a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 or better, have finished among the top-20 in the conference meet, and are at least a sophomore in their academic and athletic standing, qualifications that meet all three of the MVC-scholar rules.

NCAA qualifier and 2012 All-MVC runner Brian Dixon has been a leader to the team this season. As a senior, this marks his third consecutive year as an MVC Scholar-Athlete.


Dixon is an accounting major with a cumulative 3.93 GPA. This summer he will begin an internship with KPMG accounting firm in St. Louis. After the internship, Dixon will work towards his master’s degree at SIU and hopes to land a permanent job at KPMG.

“My team’s MVC championship is more meaningful to me than the scholar athlete individual title,” Dixon said. “But as an individual, the coaching staff does a good job of making sure I’m on track and getting all of my work done as well as everyone else.”

In the MVC championship race, coach Matt Sparks became the second coach in conference history to win both men’s and women’s titles in the same year.

Sparks said academics are not an issue for his athletes. Prior to his runners coming to SIU, Sparks and his coaching staff monitor potential recruited athletes in high school.

“If you have a good high school GPA, then it’s going to translate into having a good college GPA and also a college athlete because you’re putting in the same commitment,” Sparks said.

He said the Salukis set an academic goal at the beginning of the year, and most of the time, the athletes begin to either meet or exceed their goals. Therefore, unacceptable grades never become an issue.

“Honestly, we don’t talk about academics a whole lot; they’re committed to it,” Sparks said. “They know it’s something they have to take care of because they are in college to be both students and athletes.”


Junior Kristen Levi finished first for SIU at the MVC race. Levi is a biological science major with a cumulative 3.93 GPA. Levi said with school and cross country consuming most of her time, she doesn’t have much time for anything else.

“To be honest it takes a lot of sacrifice,” Levi said. “You have to be able to balance both academics and your social life and a lot of the time your social life just gets pushed to the side.”

Levi said her parents are her support system and are consistently there for her whenever she needs them. Once she leaves SIU, Levi would like to attend a physical therapy school somewhere out of state.

In her time as a Saluki, Levi said she is proud of her teammates, as well as herself.

“It’s a great honor,” Levi said. “Primarily to be able to represent the Saluki program for academics and athletics is great.”

Junior Sadie Darnell has earned quite a bit of success this season. Darnell has finished no lower than second place for SIU in each race thus far.

Darnell is an elementary Education major with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. Darnell said keeping her high GPA is often challenging, but time management is the key.

“I always have to make sure I have all of my school work done and be able to work around practice,” Darnell said. “But a lot of the cross country athletes help each other balance both school and running.”

The SIU women also include four other MVC scholars in junior Kelley Gallagher with a 3.22 GPA in exercise science, junior Tori Parry with a 3.39 in physical education, junior Lacey Gibson with a 4.0 in physiology, and sophomore Krista Menghini with a 3.37 in exercise science.

The Salukis have nearly wrapped up their season with only two races left. The cross country teams will head to their highly-anticipated meet on Friday, when they will race in NCAA regionals at Iowa State University.