Senior Zach Dahleen wrapped up his superb Saluki career on Saturday; Photo Credit by Chris Zoeller
May 31, 2014
By Tyler Wooten
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Saluki track and field concluded its stay in Fayetteville as five Salukis competed on the final day of the NCAA West Region Preliminary Round Championships at Arkansas' John McDonnell Field on Saturday.
Southern's first event of the day was the men's discus where junior Curtis Wideman and sophomore Josh Freeman were each looking to punch a second ticket to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 11-14. However, both Salukis fell short in the event. Freeman finished up in 38th place overall at 51.67m (169-06), and Wideman took 47th at 49.23m (161-06).
SIU was next represented by senior Zach Dahleen in the 1500 meter run quarterfinals. After qualifying Thursday night, Dahleen fell short of booking a return trip to the national meet as he finished 23rd overall at 3:54.42. Today's performance wraps up an extraordinary Saluki career for Dahleen, who was a seven-time Missouri Valley Conference champion and holds the all-time SIU records in the 1500 (3:41.18) and indoor mile (4:00.16) -- in addition to two All-MVC finishes in cross country as well. In 2012 Dahleen earned Second-Team All-American status in the 1500 as a national qualifier.
Fellow Saluki senior Kenya Culmer also concluded a superb career at Southern after bowing out in the high jump in a tie for 31st place (1.67m/5-05.75). Culmer was a two-time MVC Champion and four-time NCAA West Region qualifier in the high jump, and during her time in Carbondale she broke and reset both the indoor (1.83m/6-00.00) and outdoor (1.80m/5-11.25) all-time SIU marks multiple times. Culmer earned a trip to the national meet indoors this past year after winning the MVC indoor title on a dramatic career-best clearance of 1.83m (6-00.00).
In the end, the Salukis ended up with six national qualifying performances from five student-athletes on the first two days of the regional meet. Earning a trip to Eugene were: junior Josh Freeman (shot put), junior Ashley Gaston (discus, shot put), freshman Kyle Landon (high jump), sophomore Alexus Scott (shot put) and junior Curtis Wideman (hammer throw). Five national qualifiers are the most for Southern outdoors in two seasons since SIU sent 12 to the national meet in 2012.
"It was a really good meet," said SIU head coach Connie Price-Smith. "I was excited we got five through. I was getting a little greedy today, I was hoping for a couple more to qualify. I was hoping Zach or Kenya would be able to sneak in tonight. But, overall I think it was a really good meet in a tough three days of competition."
Since Coach Price-Smith took over the combined men's and women's track and field programs in 2004-05, Southern has accumulated 44 outdoor national qualifiers (4.4 per year) and has had at least two representatives at the national meet outdoors each year. Over the past five seasons alone (dating back to 2010) SIU has had 27 outdoor national qualifiers.
This is the first trip to outdoor nationals for each qualifier this year, and Freeman is the only one with any NCAA championship meet experience as he was an indoor qualifier this past season in the shot put (10th place).
"None of them have been there before," Price-Smith said. "Josh made it indoors, but outdoors has a different feel. My hope is that they can go out and make finals and finish top-eight."
For a handful of SIU's qualifiers -- particularly Scott in the shot put, Gaston in the discus and Wideman in the hammer throw -- this weekend was a proving ground as they were each up against higher-seeded competition and not expected to do as well as they did.
"Curtis and Alexus both had to PR to make it in, and they did," Price-Smith said. "Curtis was sitting in 10th and then he got bumped down, and then he got bumped down again, and we told him he needed to get in and get after it and he did it. I think already having Josh and others in the meet at that point made him push that much more to not be left behind."
Price-Smith attests that the same could happen in Eugene with the whole group, as SIU and the rest of the West Region will join the qualifiers in the East Region for a highly competitive championship meet.
"You never know what's going to happen," Price-Smith said. "Coming into this some of our athletes weren't ranked very high, but they ended up qualifying anyway. I'm really proud of all of them, and I know there's more left in them."