CARBONDALE — SIU's most successful track athletes over the last five years have almost all been in the field events, but the women's 400-meter relay team could change all that this weekend in Texas.
Junior Mystique Thompson, freshman Shafiqua Maloney and freshmen Tyjuana Eason and Bri'Anna Branch broke the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor track and field record in the 400 May 15 in Wichita, Kansas. The quartet finished in 44.30 seconds, breaking Indiana State's record set two years ago, 44.71. The mark qualified them for the NCAA West Region in Austin, where they're seeded 10th.
The foursome have improved their personal-best time five times this season, but director of track and field/cross country Kathleen Raske believes they can go even lower at the second-biggest meet of the season.
"We got four really talented ladies, first, each in their own right," Raske said. "We had Bri'Anna Branche and Ty Eason here in the open 200, and Maloney just missed her chance in the 100. I think they're ready to run much faster. I'm excited to see what they can do. We had a 0.6 improvement that weekend we went to Louisville, and at the Valley championships we really put it together and had another big drop."
Field events begin at 11 a.m. at the University of Texas, with action on the track set to begin at 4:30 p.m. Participants must finish in the top 12 in their events to qualify for the NCAA outdoor championships.
SIU's 400-meter relay may not have to run much faster than its seed time to advance, Raske said.
"I think if we do that we've got a good shot of pulling through, but I think they're very capable of running much faster," she said.
SIU qualified 15 athletes in 10 events this weekend, but not all will compete. Chester native Kyle Landon, for example, qualified in the triple jump and the long jump, but will only focus on his specialty, the men's high jump, which doesn't start until Saturday.
Landon, who cleared 7 foot, 2.50 inches this year, has the third-best height in the high jump. He is a four-time first team All-American and finished second at the NCAA indoor championship.
Shot putter Jared Kern, a junior college transfer, the 400 relay and hammer thrower Freya Block are SIU's other best chances to advance to the NCAA outdoor championships.
Kern has the fourth-best throw at the region, 64 feet, 5.75 inches. Block has the fifth-best hammer throw in the field, 211-3.
Branch and Eason qualified in the 200-meter run. Warren Hazel, who became just the second Saluki ever to win back-to-back 400-meter MVC outdoor titles, qualified in the 200 and 400. Lucas Horton is in the 800 run.
Pole vaulters Chad Weaver and Nathan Schuck, shot putter Kyle Kling, discus throwers Hurley and Kling and hammer thrower Isaac Ingram are SIU's other qualifiers.
Fans can watch parts of the region on the Texas athletics website, texassports.com/watch.