The Saluki track team has performed at high levels the past few seasons thanks in large part to its distance runners.
One runner, however, has won SIU track events since he first laced up his track shoes.
Zach Dahleen, a senior distance runner on both the track and field and cross- country teams, is a five-time Missouri Valley Conference champion with three indoor titles and two outdoor titles. He was also a second-team All- American in last year’s outdoor season and holds school records
in both the indoor mile and the outdoor 1500-meter run.
Dahleen said he has ran since the eighth grade, but he didn’t take it seriously until freshman year of high school when the track coach noticed his ability.
“Running the mile in gym class, I was one of the faster guys, so coach asked me to try out for the team and I did,” Dahleen said.
Dahleen said he developed a passion for running even though he wasn’t fond of the sport when he started.
“Obviously, people don’t love running to begin with,” he said. “I definitely learned to love it, and it’s really fun running with your teammates.”
Teammate Brian Dixon credits Dahleen’s success to his competitiveness.
“Zach’s a racer,” he said. “He doesn’t like to lose, and that’s why he’s one of the best in the country.”
Dixon said he is a great leader and motivates his teammates to race as well as him.
“It’s kind of hard to race after him,” he said. “He runs a four-flat mile, and if you run anything less than that it’s like a bad race.”
Although it’s sometimes hard to run after Dahleen, it’s still fun to watch him compete, Dixon said.
Dahleen currently ranks 21st nationally in the mile run for the 2013 indoor track season.
Dahleen said cross-country, however, helps him prepare for the approaching track season because of the difference in running distance.
He said the cross-country season helps his endurance level and keeps him in shape to compete in track.
“From what I run in track, which is a mile, to cross-country
where I run five to six miles is a huge transition for me,” he said.
Coach Matt Sparks said he never saw Dahleen run before SIU, but he was recruited because of his cross-country success in high school. However, Sparks said his biggest impact has been in track.
Sparks said it took a while for the runner to transition to college running, which caused him to redshirt cross-country his first semester. However, it didn’t take long for him to have a breakout performance during the track season.
“The outdoor conference meet his freshman year, where he was seeded third or fourth and won, was what caught a lot of people’s
eye,” he said. “He really hadn’t done anything that noteworthy in college until that meet, and he’s been winning meets ever since.”
This season will be Dahleen’s last in Saluki track, and Sparks said he has a chance to run professionally. Only 388 Americans have broken four minutes in the mile, and Dahleen has came close twice.
Dahleen’s best time is 4:00.16 and Sparks said the runner’s short- term goals is to break the four- minute mark and then run a 3:58 mile, which could qualify him for the NCAA Championship meet.
However, Dahleen said his ultimate goal is to win another conference championship and represent the Salukis in nationals.