SIU makes history after taking home two MVC championships

By Symone Woolridge

After long practices and intense workouts, the Saluki cross-country teams have shown that hard work pays off.

Both men and women of the SIU cross-country teams were declared Missouri Valley Conference Champions Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa.

The same school have not won both titles in over 20 years.  Illinois State University was the last school to walk away with both MVC titles in 1989.


The SIU women took home a MVC title  they have not captured in more than 20 years and won their second championship ever in a 5K race.

The women’s competition was not a cakewalk as they raced against some of the best.  During the race, the Salukis were down by eight points until nearly the end when they made a sprint to the finish.

SIU completed the race with 43 total points, defeating second place team Bradley University by 20 points.

The Salukis placed three All-MVC runners on the women’s side, making this the most ever under Coach Matt Sparks.

First place SIU finisher Kristin Levi completed the race with a time of 17:30.3.  Levi said the women’s win was unexplainable, and beyond believing.

“We all were very confident,” Levi said.  “Not confident to the point where we knew we were going to win, but to the point where we all knew what we wanted to accomplish and it was all really encouraging.”

Being the first women’s team since 1992 to take home a MVC Championship, the Salukis finally showed what they have worked so hard for.


“This is exactly what we wanted since last year,” Levi said.  “Last year we left with a bitter taste in our mouths and this year we didn’t want to leave with that unhappy feeling again.”

Right behind Levi sprinted fourth place MVC finisher junior Sadie Darnell.  Darnell completed the race with a time of 17:33.4.

“We had our eye on the goal and pulled through and won,” Darnell said.  “It was really exciting to see our training make a difference.”

The top-20 SIU finishers included sophomore Kelley Gallagher (17:41.6), sophomore Krista Menghini (17:55.3), junior Tori Parry (18:18.7), and junior Lacey Gibson (18:19.1).

Coach Matt Sparks put another dent in SIU history, making it the second time since 1987 that the same coach won both titles.  Wichita State University coach John Kornelson, was the last coach to do so.

Sparks collected his fifth MVC men’s title, and his sixth MVC women’s title.  This marks Sparks’ name down in SIU history for collecting the most titles, and also ties former coach Bill Cornell for the fourth most mens’ titles in school history.

“I think it’s a combination of hard work and trying to fix all of the puzzle pieces to put together in a perfect way,” Sparks said.  “So it’s more of a relief than anything to put in so much hard work and have both two wins happen on the same day.”

This tallies up another SIU title for the men, after winning last season’s MVC Championship and also making it the 14th men’s MVC title in SIU history.

Last season the men ran five All-MVC runners including NCAA qualifier senior Brian Dixon who this year finished fourth for SIU with a time of 24:50.0, and 11th in the MVC finishing within three seconds of his third-straight all-conference honor.

The Saluki men finished with a total team score of 38, sweeping Loyola, the second place finisher, by 59 points.

First place SIU finisher and fourth place MVC finisher senior Zach Dahleen completed the race in 24:30.3.

“It was great to repeat our conference championship,” Dahleen said.  “Everybody just knew that we had to pull out with a win.”

The men defeated schools such as Loyola University Chicago, Illinois State University, Bradley University, University of Northern Iowa, and Wichita State University.

Since this is the second consecutive win for the men, the Salukis already knew what they were getting themselves into.

“As a team this year we went into the race pretty highly favored,” Dahleen said.  “We kind of had a cockier attitude since we were last year’s winners and we tried to run as fast and hard as we could to pull it out.”

The top-20 Saluki men’s finishers were junior Nick Schrader (24:31.3), sophomore Oscar Medina (25:35.4), and sophomore Juan Carrera (24:57.7).

Schrader met his personal time record and is excited to complete a personal goal of his.

“Although I am happy with our performance, there are still other things to be done,” Schrader said. “We still have regionals in a couple weeks and we want to make it to nationals as a team.”

Sparks said he is proud of his Salukis and happy that everything worked out as he planned.

“We have just been working towards one thing, and another thing, and another thing,” he said.  “And we have had the expectations to win, but it’s so much more sweet to have the title.”

The Salukis will face regionals next, as they will compete in NCAA Regionals in Ames, Iowa Nov. 15.

Symone Woolridge can be reached at [email protected] or ext. 536-3311 ext. 269