Junior Brian Dixon has an outside chance to claim an individual at-large berth for the NCAA Nationals.
This is Coach Sparks' third Coach of the Year honor during his tenure at Southern Illinois.
This is the first MVC title for the men since 2008; third is the highest finish for the women since 2006.
Zach Dahleen notched his highest finish of the season.
Sophomore Nich Schrader won the men's 8K.
Last updated on Oct. 9, 2012
Matt Sparks is in his eleventh year as the distance and middle distance coach of the Saluki track and field program. Sparks also serves as the head coach of the men's and women's cross country teams.
Sparks has led a resurgence in SIU's cross country program over the last seven years. In his first year as coach of both cross country programs in 2004, he led the Saluki men to a share of the MVC title, and the 2007 and 2008 men's cross country teams won back-to-back championships. In 2012, Sparks earned his fourth men's title with a decisive win at the MVC championships. The women produced back-to-back second place finishes in 2003 and 2004, finishing third in 2005 and back at second in 2006.
For the men, Mohamed Mohamed won the individual title in 2006 and teammate Jeff Schirmer won back-to-back individual titles in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, Mohamed built upon his 2006 MVC win by qualifying and competing well at the NCAA Cross Country Championships finishing 77th. In the 2008 postseason, the men's team finished sixth at the NCAA Midwest Regional, Schirmer finishing ninth to advance to the NCAA National Championships where he finished 25th for All-American honors, the first at SIU since 1984. Schirmer then repeated his All-America accolades in 2009 with a 19th place finish at nationals.
On the track, Sparks's athletes have experienced similar success. In 2011-12, Coach Sparks' distance runners were a major part of the first Saluki men's MVC indoor championship title in twenty years. Seven of his runners -- Stephen Arvanis, Jeremy Bankston, Lucas Cherry, Zach Dahleen, T.J. Heffernan, Oscar Medina and Jawon Smith -- brought home the distance medley relay title. Dahleen also won the mile race, the second of Southern's four event titles that day.
The 2010-11 campaign saw success led by Jeff Shirmer who was the MVC Indoor event champion in the 1 mile, 3000m, and 5000m as well as being named the MVC's Most Valuable Athlete. Shirmer, Zach Dahleen, Dan Dunbar, and T.J. Heffernan were named All-MVC honorees. On the women's side Emily Toenies was named an all-MVC honoree as well as winning the prestiguous MVC Elite 18 Award under Sparks's instruction.
During outdoor season Jeff Shirmer claimed championships in the 1,500m, 5,000m, and 10,000m as well as qualifying for NCAA Nationals and being named an All-American honoree. Also during outdoor season Lucas Cherry was named an MVC Elite 18 Award winner and Dan Dunbar was an NCAA Regional qualifier in the 10,000m. On the women's side Megan Hoelscher was named an All-MVC honoree and was an NCAA Regional qualifier in the 3,000m steeplechase.
In 2009-10, Sparks' distance crew hauled in numerous conference championship and all-MVC honors. For the men, Stephen Arvanis swept the MVC 800m titles, while Schirmer captured the indoor mile and 5000m championships, while also earning the MVC Most Valuable Athlete at the indoor championships. In addition, Zach Dahleen (outdoor 1500m), Dan Dunbar (outdoor 10,000m), and Mohamed (outdoor 5000m) each notched MVC titles. Meanwhile, both Emily Toennies and Megan Hoelscher were named all-MVC honorees for a secon straight season, while Hoelscher also broke her own school record in the 3000m steeplechase.
In 2008-09, Schirmer for the second-straight season, swept the MVC distance titles winning cross country, the indoor 3k and 5k, being named the MVC Indoor Championships Men's Most Valuable Athlete. During the outdoor season, he swept conference honors in the 5k and 10k, qualifying for the NCAA National Championships in both events. Jason Ordway also earned a MVC title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, advancing to regionals. On the women's side, Megan Hoelscher advanced to regionals in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, just missing a bid to nationals.
During the 2007-2008 campaign, Schirmer made his first sweep of the MVC Distance titles winning cross country, the indoor 3k and 5k, and the outdoor 5k and 10k titles. Also excelling in 2008 was Dan Dunbar who was USATF Junior National Champion (Columbus, Ohio) in the 10k and went on the place 19th at the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. In 2006, Ty-Nica Davis placed 13th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships (Sacramento, Calif.) in the 800-meter run. Davis continues to train with the Sakukis as a volunteer coach and saw 2008 Olympic Trials success placing ninth running 2:03.22. Under Sparks' watch, SIU has qualified an athlete to the NCAA regional meet in every distance event, claiming 36 MVC individual championships along the way.
In addition to what his runners have done on the course, Sparks' cross country athletes have been successful in the classroom as well. In fact, the 2002-2009 women's teams each achieved Academic All-America status with distinction, with the 2003 squad earning the second-highest GPA (3.61) in the country.
Prior to joining the Salukis, Sparks enjoyed a successful two-year coaching stint at Ohio State, where he also coached women's cross country and distance. The Lady Buckeye distance crew set school records in the 3000m steeplechase and the distance medley relay under Sparks' direction.
Sparks first started coaching at his alma mater, Indiana University, where he served as a graduate assistant and volunteer assistant coach for three years. He played a key role in the recruitment and development of many cross country and track and field athletes for the Hoosiers. Additionally, he helped lead the women's program to Big Ten Conference Indoor and Outdoor championships in 2000.
Before his coaching debut, Sparks came to Indiana as an athlete on the cross country and track teams. He gained valuable experience working with national champion and American record holder Bob Kennedy and Hall-of-Fame coach Sam Bell.
During his athletic days, 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 5000m. Also, he ran in the top-three for the Hoosier cross country teams for four years.
A native of Noblesville, Ind., Sparks earned an education degree in general science and biology in 1997, and a master's degree in applied sport science in 1999. In 1992, he graduated from Noblesville High School, 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.
Sparks, and his wife, Emily, reside in Carbondale with their son, Samuel, and daughter, Eliza.
Led the Saluki men's cross country team to four MVC titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2012).
Guided Saluki women's cross country team to back-to-back runner-up finishes at MVC Championships.
Coached 39 MVC Champions.
Coached 111 all-MVC performers.
Coached 72 MVC Scholar-Athletes.
Coached 13 NCAA qualifiers.
Coached nine USATF Junior All-Americans.
Coached eight cross country teams earned Academic All-American status with distinction. His 2003 squad had the second-highest GPA (3.61) in the nation.
Coached one USATF Junior National Champion and World Junior Competitor.