Sept. 12, 2013
By DeMario Smith-Phipps
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Sometimes, a great high school recruit gets so caught up in their own hype after they get to college that they don't fulfill their potential. Saluki distance runner Zach Dahleen hasn't had that problem.
At Orland Park High School, Dahleen ran the mile in an incredible four minutes and 10 seconds, and he was state runner-up in the 1600 meter. He was also a two-time sectional champion and All-State honoree. Dahleen brought impressive credentials to Southern Illinois when he arrived in 2009, and he has continued to excel throughout a splendid four-year career.
"Zach's high school accolades make him the best recruit I've ever signed here," said cross country head coach Matt Sparks, who is entering his 12th year at SIU. "Often times, when that best recruit walks through the door, it's hard for them to live up to the expectations of being an 'A' recruit. He's exceeded even those expectations."
As a junior last season, Dahleen was named the indoor track Most Valuable Male Athlete at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships, capturing the title in both the mile and 3,000 meter run. At the MVC Cross Country Championships last fall, he placed second overall, lifting the Salukis to a conference title.
Early in his career, Dahleen had the good fortune to compete with gifted teammates such as Mohamed Mohamed, Jeff Schirmer and Stephen Arvanis. He said his approach to the sport improved thanks to their leadership.
"My freshman year, I ran with some great athletes and I listened to their advice," he said. "I looked up to them and it's been quite a journey growing up to be just like them. It's like any kid who looks up to a rock star or football star and then gets to walk in their shoes."
Sparks said he has been blessed to coach numerous talented athletes, and Dahleen ranks among the best.
Dahleen suffered a leg injury that kept him from competing in the outdoor track events last season, and he's excited about returning to competition next weekend at the Saluki Invitational.
"Ever since the injury, my mindset has been on cross country," Dahleen said. "This was my first full summer and I have trained hard in anticipation for the season."
Sparks is confident his senior leader will have another strong year.
"Zach has been so consistent, whether it be his focus on training or academics," Sparks said. "He has the mindset of a winner."