Nov. 1, 2013
By Tyler Wooten
Both the Saluki men's and women's cross country teams have high expectations heading to the Missouri Valley Conference Championships at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday.
1. Coming off a dominant victory at the 2012 MVC Championship, the Saluki men were tabbed to repeat as conference victors in the preseason poll in August and the pre-championship poll released Tuesday. SIU received eight out of nine first-place votes, the remaining vote going to Bradley.
2. Southern returns five 2012 All-MVC competitors, and all five runners currently have 8K times ranked in the top-15 in the conference. Senior Zach Dahleen (fourth, 24:31.40), junior Nick Schrader (seventh, 24:40.94), senior Brian Dixon (11th, 24:46.77), sophomore Oscar Medina (13th, 24:49.63) and sophomore Juan Carrera (15th, 24:53.19) all posted season-best times at the Indiana State Pre-National meet on Oct. 19.
3. The race for the men's individual MVC championship should be a tight one. Indiana State's John Mascari beat out SIU's Zach Dahleen by four seconds in 2012 for the individual title. Mascari currently holds the best 8K time in the MVC at 23:41.77. Dahleen hasn't finished worse than third at the conference meet in the previous two seasons.
4. Although he was an All-MVC runner in 2012, junior Nick Schrader has exceeded expectations with a superb fall after returning from injury in the track season. Schrader finished seventh at the conference meet in 2012, and is a viable contender along with Dahleen and 2012 NCAA Qualifier Brian Dixon to be SIU's top finisher.
6. Meanwhile, the Saluki women are having one of their best seasons under Coach Sparks. SIU won three straight meets, including the Notre Dame Invitational Gold 5K race on Oct. 4.
7. The Saluki women received one first-place vote in the preseason poll back in August, and were voted third behind Bradley and two-time defending champion Illinois State in the pre-championship poll. SIU is seeking it's first women's title since 1992, but it will face stiff competition from the Redbirds and Braves, who combined own four of the top-10 times in the Valley in 2013.
8. In 2012, the Saluki women posted a third-place MVC finish, the best since 2006 (second). Sadie Darnell (11th) and Kelley Gallagher (15th) were vital to Southern's success and narrowly missed All-MVC distinction, finishing within 10 seconds of the top-10 for All-Conference honors.
9. Southern's good fortune in 2013 is due in large part to the continued individual success of Darnell, Gallagher and sophomore Kristen Levi, whose 5K times rank fifth, 13th and seventh in the MVC, respectively. Levi is having a breakout sophomore season. In her three meets, Levi has an average finish of 3.6.
10. The timing could be right for the Saluki women to take make a run at Bradley or defending champion Illinois State. Only four of the 10 All-MVC runners in 2012 return in 2013, clearing a path for Darnell, Gallagher, Levi and other talented Salukis to move up and improve SIU's team score.