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CARBONDALE — After strong performances throughout the first four meets of the 2018 indoor season, the Southern Illinois track and field team returns to action Friday when it hosts the Don DeNoon Invitational inside the SIU Recreation Center.

The Salukis are set to host their largest home meet in director of track and field/cross country Kathleen Raske's three-year tenure, as 570 athletes across 14 teams are set to compete. Arkansas State, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Evansville, Lipscomb, Memphis, Murray State, Ole Miss, Saint Louis, SEMO, SIUE, UT Martin and Western Illinois will all send student-athletes and the meet will feature team scoring, with a plaque presented to the winners Saturday evening.

One of the highlights of the meet will take place Saturday afternoon. The Salukis will celebrate 25 years of women's athletics in the Missouri Valley Conference with a ceremony beginning at 12:30 p.m. Southern has appointed several honorary captains for the event, led by two-time national champion and 2016 Olympian DeAnna Price. Price will be joined by Saluki legends from various eras including Lindy (Nelson) Rushing, Connie Price-Smith, Jamie Dashner, Sophia Lozano, Sasha Leeth and Jeneva Stephens.

As a student-athlete, Raske excelled in the Gateway Conference, as she earned 1989 All-America outdoor honors in the 100-meter hurdles, 1989 SIUC Female Athlete of the Year and was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Decade by the Gateway Conference. Now as a head coach at her alma mater, Raske has seen the Missouri Valley Conference grow into what it is today.

"I look back on the AIAW and I came (to SIU) in an era when there were completely separate athletic departments," Raske said. "When I was here the departments were merging. It was all very fresh. We had just started competing in the NCAA and were in a women's only athletic conference in the Gateway."

Raske recognizes the importance of taking opportunities like Saturday's meet to honor the conference's history because of the need to continually educate current student-athletes on just how far the league, and in a broader sense, women's athletics, have come.

"It's crucial that our current female athletes know our history and know of the pioneers that came before all of us," Raske said. "We can never take for granted the opportunities that we have been given because we didn't always have them. Knowing our history is part of developing an appreciation for where we are today."

Another highlight of the two-day meet will take place Friday night. The women's weight throw will kick off the meet at 3:15 p.m. and will feature throwers who hold three of the top-four marks in the event nationally.

Gwen Berry, who comes into the meet with the longest throw in the United States at 81'-6.50" (24.85m), is set to compete as is Jeneva (McCall) Stevens and Janeah Stewart of Ole Miss. Stevens is currently second in the U.S. in both the shot put (59'-10.50" // 18.25m) and the weight throw (79'-6.50" // 24.24m) while Stewart is currently fourth in the nation at 75'-0.75" (22.88m).

The Salukis also rank in the top-15 collegiately in both the men's and women's weight throw as SIU's men have the fourth-best combined mark at 249'-11" (76.17m) while Southern's women are ranked 12th with a combined mark of 231'-11" (70.69m).

The event is free of charge, with the SIU Recreation Center giving fans a birds-eye view of the weight throw. Seats are lined along the upstairs track at the Rec Center, which allows fans the unique ability to not only see the entire throws pit, but also provides spectators with a great view of the entire meet.

The pole vault, as well as the long jump and women's high jump, will be contested Friday night.

Day two of the third annual Don DeNoon Invitational is set to begin at 9 a.m. as the men's heptathlon kicks off the morning session, while the shot put and the high jump will get field events underway at 10 a.m. Running events begin at 11:15 a.m. starting with the women's 60-meter dash. There are 51 entrants in the women's 60m.

The Salukis currently have five event groups ranked in the top 15 nationally, according to USTFCCCA. The Saluki men lead all Division I teams in the shot put and rank fourth in the NCAA in the weight throw. The men also ranked 15th in the triple jump, while the Saluki women are ranked 12th in the weight throw and 15th in the shot put.

Individually, Southern has seven athletes who are ranked in the top 50 nationally led by Isaac Ingram. Ingram moved up to seventh in the NCAA in the weight throw with his winning toss from the Indiana Relays on Jan. 26. Jared Kern is ranked 12th in the NCAA in the shot put, while Alexis Roberson will head into Friday's competition ranked 21st in the weight throw.

After hosting the Don DeNoon Invitational this weekend, the Salukis will next travel to Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 9-10 to compete at the two-day Music City Classic, hosted by Vanderbilt University.

Seven Salukis lead the MVC in their respective events:

Warren Hazel, 400m dash, 47.07 seconds

Shafiqua Maloney, 400m dash, 55.74

Women's 4x400 relay, 3:45.38

Kezia Martin, triple jump, 40 feet, 9 inches(12.42m)

Jared Kern, shot put, 62'-11.25" (19.18m)

Isaac Ingram, weight throw, 71'-7.5" (21.83m)

Alexis Roberson, weight throw, 66'-3" (20.19m)


Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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