Matt Sparks
    Matt Sparks

    Noblesville, Ind.

    High School:

    Last College:
    Ohio State


    12th season (2014)

    Alma Mater:


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    Email Cross Country/Distance Coach Matt Sparks

    Matt Sparks enters his 12th season at SIU in 2013-14 as both the middle distance and distance track coach and the head coach of the cross country program.

    A native of Noblesville, Ind., Sparks has been at SIU since 2002, starting out as the head women's cross country coach and women's distance track coach until the track and field programs were combined in 2004. Since, Sparks has been head men's and women's cross country coach and head men's and women's distance coach for Saluki track.

    Sparks has led a resurgence in Saluki cross country not seen since the days of legendary coaches Bill Cornell and Lew Hartzog. In his first season in charge of the combined program, Sparks led the Saluki men to a share of the Missouri Valley Conference championship (the first for SIU in nine years) and in 2007 and 2008 the Saluki men repeated as MVC champs -- also for the first time in a decade.

    Sparks owns six MVC cross country titles to his name, including two alone in 2013. The Saluki men and women swept the MVC Championships on Nov. 2, becoming the first school to do so since 1989 (Illinois State). Sparks became only the second head coach in conference history to sweep both the men's and women's titles (John Kornelson, Wichita State, 1987). The men's win in 2013 was his fifth at SIU, which ties Bill Cornell for the most men's titles in school history and is also tied for the fourth-most in conference history. The sweep makes Sparks the winningest cross country coach in SIU history.

    The Saluki men were able to replicate some of the same magic from 2012, posting three 2012 All-MVC runners (Zach Dahleen, fourth; Nick Schrader, fifth; Oscar Medina, sixth) back in the top-10 en route to a dominant 59-point victory over newcomer Loyola.

    The Saluki women earned their first title in 21 years (1992, Don DeNoon) in a more dramatic fashion. Southern was down eight at the midway point of the race, but made an impressive charge for the victory, besting pre-championship favorite Bradley by 20 points. The Saluki women put three in the top-10 for All-MVC (Kristen Levi, third; Sadie Darnell, fourth; Kelley Gallagher, fifth) and three more within the top-20 to seal the victory.

    Sparks graduated from Noblesville High School in 1992 where he was a three-time top-five finisher in the state cross country meet and a four-time All-Indiana track and field recipient.

    As a student-athlete at his alma mater Indiana University, Sparks was a consistent scorer at the Big Ten Championships on the track. In 1996, he narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., running a time of 14:12.82 in the 5000 meter run. All four years he spent in Bloomington, Sparks was a top-three runner for the Hoosier cross country team. He gained valuable experience working with four-time national champion and American record holder Bob Kennedy and Hall of Fame coach Sam Bell.

    Sparks first started coaching at IU as a graduate assistant and volunteer assistant for three seasons. He played a key role in the recruitment and development of many cross country and track and field athletes for the Hoosiers. Additionally, he was part of the coaching staff of the women's Hoosiers team that won both the indoor and outdoor Big Ten Championships in 2000.

    Prior to joining the Salukis, Sparks enjoyed a successful two-year stint at Ohio State as the head women's cross country coach and women's distance coach alongside future Saluki coaches Connie Price-Smith and John Smith from 2000-02. The Lady Buckeye distance crew set school records in the 3000m steeplechase and the distance medley relay under Sparks' direction.

    Since coming to Southern in 2002, Saluki cross country under Sparks has consistently been one of the top squads in the highly-competitive Missouri Valley. In addition to his six team championships, Sparks has two All-Americans (Jeff Schirmer, 2008-09), four MVC champions (Mohamed Mohamed, 2006; Jeff Schirmer, 2007-08; Dan Dunbar, 2010), and five national qualifiers -- the most recent finalist being Brian Dixon in 2012 (143rd).

    On the track, Sparks has had similar success with his distance runners -- who have contributed to some of the best Saluki track and field teams in school history. In 12 seasons Sparks has coached 51 MVC champions, 125 All-MVC performers, five MVC Most Valuable Track Athletes and five NCAA finals qualifiers. The Saluki men captured their first championship in 20 years indoors in 2012, due in large part to Sparks' MVC champion distance medley relay team and the individual efforts of five-time MVC champion Zach Dahleen.

    In addition to the athletic accomplishments his runners have achieved, Sparks has led one of the most successful academic programs at SIU and in the MVC. His cross country teams have consistently achieved top-20 GPAs nationally and his student-athletes have earned numerous awards for their academic efforts. From 2002-09, Sparks' women's teams achieved Academic All-America status, with the 2003 squad notching the second-highest GPA (3.61) in the country. In 2010, his men's team returned the favor with the second-highest GPA nationally at 3.60.

    Across both track and cross country, Sparks has accumulated 120 total MVC Scholar-Athletes honorees. In fact, he owns 66 of SIU's 126 (52.4 percent) track and field Scholar-Athletes accumulated during his time in Carbondale (2002-present). In addition, every MVC Elite 18 award that SIU track and field has earned have all been Sparks distance runners.

    Sparks graduated from IU in 1997 with an education degree in general science and biology, and he completed his master's in applied sports science at IU in 1999.

    Sparks and his wife, Emily, reside in Carbondale with their son, Samuel, and daughter, Eliza.

    Career Notes (Track and Cross Country):
    • Owns five MVC men's cross country titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013)
    • Guided the Saluki women cross country team to its first title in 21 years in 2013
    • Coached 51 MVC Champions
    • Coached 131 All-MVC performers
    • Five MVC Most Valuable Track Athletes
    • Four MVC Cross Country Athletes of the Year
    • Coached 120 MVC Scholar-Athletes
    • Coached 10 NCAA Finals Qualifiers
    • Has qualified an SIU athlete in every distance event for the NCAA Regional meet
    • Two Cross Country All-Americans (Jeff Schirmer, 2008-09) and two outdoor track second-team All-Americans (Schirmer and Dahleen)
    • Coached ten USATF Junior All-Americans
    • Coached nine cross country teams that have earned Academic All-American status. His 2003 women's squad (3.61) and his 2010 men's squad (3.6) had the second-highest GPAs in the nation
    • Coached one USATF Junior National Champion, a World Junior competitor and a Pan Am Junior competitor

    Notable Pupils

    Jeff Schirmer | Southern Illinois, 2006-11
    • Two-time cross country All-American
    • First SIU cross country All-American in 24 years
    • Outdoor track second-team All-American (10,000m, 2011)
    • 19-time MVC Champion
    • 22-time All-MVC performer
    • Four-time MVC MVP
    • All-time MVC record holder in the indoor 5000m (13:53.60) and outdoor 10,000m (28:42.71)
    • All-time SIU record holder in the 10,000m (28:42.71)
    • Only four-time MVC champion of the indoor 5000m
    • Only four-time MVC champion of the outdoor 10,000m
    • Only three-time MVC champion of the indoor 3000m

    Mohamed Mohamed | Southern Illinois, 2005-10
    • 2006 MVC Cross Country Champion
    • 2007 NCAA Cross Country qualifier
    • 2010 MVC 5,000m champion

    Dan Dunbar | Southern Illinois, 2007-12
    • 2010 MVC Cross Country champion
    • 2010 Outdoor MVC champion in 10,000m
    • 2008 USATF Junior Champion in the 10K
    • Finished 19th in 10K at World Junior Championships

    Joe Byrne | Southern Illinois, 2003-05
    • 2005 NCAA qualifier in cross country
    • Three-time All-MVC in cross country
    • Member of 2007 MVC All-Centennial Cross Country team

    Zach Dahleen | Southern Illinois, 2009-present
    • Five-time MVC champion
    • School record holder in mile (4:00.16) and 1500m (3:41.18)
    • 2013 MVC Indoor Most Valuable Track Athlete
    • 2012 outdoor second-team All-American (1500m)

    Brian Dixon | Southern Illinois, 2010-present
    • 2012 NCAA qualifier in cross country (143rd)

    Ty-Nica Davis | Southern Illinois, 2003-06
    • 2006 outdoor NCAA finals qualifier (800m)
    • SIU all-time record holder in indoor 600m (1:30.65), indoor 800m (2:07.65) and outdoor 800m (2:06.31)
    • Four-time MVC champion
    • Finished ninth in the 800m at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008 (2:03.22)

    Noa Beitler | Southern Illinois, 2001-04
    • Eight-time MVC champion
    • SIU all-time record holder in the mile (4:45.80) and distance medley relay (11:44.48) indoors
    • 2003 outdoor NCAA qualifier
    • Only three-time MVC champion in the outdoor 1500m

    Saturday, Apr 19
    Track Lawrence, Kan. All Day
    Friday, Apr 25
    Track Jonesboro, Ark. All Day
    Saturday, Apr 26
    Track Jonesboro, Ark. All Day
    Saturday, May 3
    Track Normal, Ill. All Day
    Saturday, May 10
    Track Charleston, Ill. All Day
    Friday, May 16
    Track Carbondale, Ill. All Day
    Saturday, May 17
    Track Carbondale, Ill. All Day
    Sunday, May 18
    Track Carbondale, Ill. All Day
    Thursday, May 29
    Track Fayetteville, Ark. All Day
    Friday, May 30
    Track Fayetteville, Ark. All Day
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