Oct. 27, 2005
By Matt Crouch
CARBONDALE, Ill. - After five meets and more than 280 kilometers run in competition this fall, the Southern Illinois University cross country team prepares to head to Evansville, Ind., Sat., Oct. 29 for the State Farm / Missouri Valley Conference Cross Country Championship.
SIU Head Cross Country Coach Matt Sparks is optimistic about his teams and believes that they are ready for the MVCs.
"Training has gone really well. Both teams have really picked it up a notch since the Pre-National meet. Everyone has maintained or improved since our last time out," said Sparks.
In the pre-championship poll released by the MVC Wednesday, the SIU men's and women's cross country teams were both picked to finish third.
"I think we are going to finish better than that," said Sparks. "It's a goal for both teams to finish top two and come out of the meet with a trophy."
Sparks says that the team has to go out and perform and not worry about what the other teams are doing.
"I feel like as a general program goal we should come out of this meet with a first or second, and this year is no exception. The only thing that we can affect is what we are going to do. We just go out there and do what we are capable of doing, and if we do what we are capable of doing then things will fall into place," said Sparks.
In the MVC's Pre-Championship Poll, Wichita State was picked first among the women with 15 points and six of the 10 available first-place votes.
Missouri State was second with 23 points and two first-place votes with the Salukis coming in at third with 25 points and the remaining two first-place votes.
Northern Iowa (45) came in at fourth with Illinois State (50) rounding out the top five. Indiana State (55), Bradley (76), Drake (80), Creighton (83) and Evansville (98) close out the poll.
"Wichita State has probably the favorite individual to win the meet in Desiraye Osburn, which helps in team scoring," said Sparks. "Anytime that you have a superstar front-runner, it helps not only your team score but it gives everyone on your team a lot of confidence by having that lead front-runner."
Leading the way for SIU at the meet is junior Sarah Rinker. Rinker has been the top performer for the Salukis in each of the four events she competed in, winning two of them.
She recently record a career-best in the 6K as she won the Open Race at Pre-Nationals with a time of 21:24.70.
According to Sparks, Osburn, Wichita State's Sarah Becker, Indiana State's Laura Engle and Drake's Ashley Anklam should be in close competition with Rinker for the top five positions.
In the men's MVC Pre-Championship Poll, Indiana State led the way with 10 points and all 10 first-place votes. Drake followed in second with 25 points with SIU at third with 29.
Missouri State comes in fourth with 38 points, ahead of Wichita State with 53.
Evansville (67), Bradley (71), Northern Iowa (78), Illinois State (82) and Creighton (97) close out the poll.
"Indiana State basically returns their entire team from last year, plus adding a couple junior college all-Americans which makes them kind of the clear-cut favorite to win the meet," said Sparks.
"But, they still have to perform that day and if they are not ready to go then who knows what will happen."
Leading the way for the Salukis is senior Joe Byrne. Byrne has improved in each of the three races he has competed in this year.
He won the Saluki Invitational for the third consecutive time and recently finished fourth at the Pre-Nationals with his best 8K time of the season, 24:40.70. Byrne's time at the Pre-Nationals is also the fastest 8K time in the MVC this season.
Sparks believes that Byrne's toughest competition will come from Missouri State's Michael Breshears, who was the runner-up at the 2004 MVC Championship. He also sees Indiana State's Sean Bowman, Jordan Fife and Blaine Zimmerman vying for position in the top five.
Action is set to begin Saturday at the University of Evansville Cross Country Course. The men will run an 8K with a 10:30 a.m. start while the women will run a 5K with an 11:30 a.m. start.