The Saluki cross-country teams excelled at Friday’s Bradley Classic as the men’s team earned its third season win and the women took third place.
Junior Zach Dahleen led the men as he notched his season-best time at 24 minutes and 20 seconds and took second place in the meet. Dahleen has finished within the top 10 in all of his meets, despite missing the season’s first two of the season.
Coach Matt Sparks said Dahleen has emerged as the team’s lead runner.
“Zach has been really consistent this year,” he said. “Going into conference, it really helps to have someone out there leading the charge. I was glad that he and the team were able to get a victory over MVC opponents that may have beat us in the past.”
Junior Brian Dixon and sophomore Nick Schrader also nabbed top-10 positions, finishing seventh and eighth place respectively. Schrader finished 13th at the Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational, the first time of the season that he concluded a meet outside the top 10. His 24:42 time improved nearly half a minute from the last meet to land him among the day’s top performers.
Sparks said the team’s serious approach to the game and its high dedication level makes it a tough group to beat.
“It’s a day in, day out commitment with these guys,” Sparks said. “It’s not what you do in three hours of practice, but what you do with those other 21 hours that decide how you are going to perform.”
Junior Lucas Cherry said the team could learn from its recent success and apply that experience to the MVC Championships.
“With our performance on Friday, I really feel that everyone is mentally prepared for conference. The sophomores were really able to step up and we are building great team camaraderie,” he said. “In the past, we’ve finished just a couple of points out of first place. This year we are hoping to be on the other side of that score.”
On the women’s side, sophomore Sadie Darnell maintained her hot start to the season with a sixth place finish with a time of 21:18. Darnell has been the women’s top finisher in three of five races this season, including yet another top-10 finish in Peoria Friday.
Freshman Kelley Gallagher, the 19th place finisher, and the 23rd place finisher sophomore Lacey Gibson rounded out the women’s top 25. Their respective 21:43 and 21:47 times were enough to anchor a third instance where the Saluki women finished within the top three.
Gibson said the team is in a position to perform even better than last year.
“So many people are healthy. Last year we weren’t so lucky,” she said. “Having the team pretty much at full strength helps in practice because we are able to push each other even more … I really think we have a good shot at conference this year.”
Sparks said the women had their best performance in about three years.
“With so many young runners, we didn’t have incredibly high expectations for the girls,” he said. “But in a lot of ways they are performing right up there with the guys … They were really impressive out there.”
Cherry said both teams should redirect their focus on MVC Championships and NCAA Midwest Regionals training.
“If we work hard, the success will come based off how much effort we put in,” he said.
The cross-country teams travel to Normal for the MVC Championships on Satuday Oct. 27.