Admit it… you’ve all wondered what a real fight between a Bear and a Saluki would look like, right? If today’s duals in Springfield are any indication, it might be uglier than you would think. (I am pretty sure the Bear in this video is from Chicago. It certainly isn’t a Missouri State Bear.) Southern Illinois and Missouri State have had a fantastic rivalry for decades, and today’s display of intense exchanges and close races did not disappoint. The men’s and women’s meets were tight enough that both could have gone either way based on fingertips at several points throughout the meet. The Springfield crowd, loud and well educated on the importance of pivotal points all the way down to fourth and fifth place finishes, helped intensify the atmosphere of the dual.
The Southern Illinois Saluki women managed to take down the Lady Bears on their home turf 125-116, but that outcome was in doubt all the way, not being decided until the absolute last second of competition. The men’s meet was undecided until the very end as well, but this time the Bears were able to hold off their Mid-America Conference rival Salukis for the home win, 121-110.
Last year, even though the MSU women were eventual Missouri Valley Conference champs, the Salukis took their October dual in Carbondale by over 90 points. This time both teams exchanged displays of strength throughout the afternoon, with SIU dominating the freestyle events and diving, and MSU taking ownership of the stroke events.
The winner of every freestyle event for the women was a Saluki, with McKenna Avery taking the 50 free (23.99) and 100 free (52.80), and two Bears behind her taking the second and third spots in both. Bryn Handley was also a double freestyle winner as well, easily taking the 200 with 1:52.01 over MSU’s Dora Kiss at 1:54.83 and leading an SIU 1,2,4,5 finish in the 500 with 4:57.36. It is worth noting that Dora Kiss went for the tough double on this one, also finishing second behind SIU’s Kelsie Walker in the 1000 free just a few minutes before the 200, 10:20.38 to Walker’s 10:14.58. No one goes for that double unless they know the points are going to matter. Kiss’ finish in that 200 made a difference as she out-touched SIU’s Lauren Stockholm by .06 to leave her with third place points.
SIU’s other event winner was Cheri Zhang, who took both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events with 337.29 and 321.30 respectively.
The Bears didn’t just answer the Saluki’s freestyle domination with the winning time across the board in the stroke events– they also managed to sweep three of them. Josie Pearson turned in a 2:06.68 200 IM, clearing the way for teammates Lauren Pavel (2:10.04) and Briana Horozewski (2:11.56) to take second and third for big points. Pearson also led teammates Ibby Simcox (2:09.29,) Rebecca Amparano (2:09.86,) and Emma Wall (2:10.17) in a complete 1-4 sweep of the 200 fly with her winning time of 2:08.46. The third event swept by the Bears was the 200 breaststroke, with Lauren Pavel taking the win at 2:23.42 and teammates Olivia Gean and Kaylee Larson cutting the desert dogs out of the big points with 2:27.00 and 2:27.04.
Other event winners for the Lady Bears were Sydney Zupan in the 200 back (2:04.48,) and the 400 Medley Relay team of Zupan, Pavel, Pearson and Hope Ernhart who turned in 3:53.99 to SIU’s 3:57.52.
The credit for the killing blow in this dual goes back to the Saluki freestylers, as SIU was able to sweep the 400 Free Relay with the team of Walker, Lauren Stockton, Helena Amorin and Bryn Handley taking the win at 3:31.04. The SIU B team of Kristina Ksarjian, Mikaela Montgomery, Riley Schroedter and Jordan Ries snatched the second place points from the Bears on the back of a 53.24 come-from-behind anchor from Ries, securing the 1-2 relay finish and the dual meet win.
The men’s meet played out very differently but was no less exciting. The MSU and SIU men are so evenly matched that in nearly every event, the first and second place winner were not from the same team. No team held enough dominance of any event to take a 1-3 sweep the entire night.
MSU took the winning spot in four of the first five events, starting with Uvis Kalnins, Isaac Springer, Artur Osvath and Will Brand taking the 400 medley relay with 3:22.92. Next, freshman Minki Kang managed to hold off SIU’s Michael Wolfe in the 1000 Freestyle with 9:33.02 to Wolfe’s 9:34.75. Uvis Kalnins took the 50 free in a solid 20.63, and Artur Osvath won the 200 IM with 1:53.24.
Southern answered with big wins from Till Pallman in the 200 free (1:39.83,) Lucas Aquino in the 200 fly (1:54.14,) and a nearly 1.5 second win in the 100 free from Andre Luiz Brilhante at 46.68. SIU also earned uncontested diving points in both the 1 and 3-meter competitions by Shane Phillips and Jack Reilly. Pallman was a double event winner, also taking the 500 freestyle in 4:34.10, over three seconds ahead of the Bears’ top finisher Kang who touched in 4:37.80.
Only two swimming events managed to have a 1-2 finish and both went to the Bears. The 200 breast was taken by Artur Osvath and Christopher Heye, who took vital points with 2:03.44 and 2:06.71. The 200 back was won by the extremely versatile Kalnins in 1:49.86, with Bryce Blattner finishing in second at 1:54.54, just .05 ahead of Southern’s Alex Crawford at 1:54.59.
The Saluki men were also able to steal the 400 free relay away from the Bears on a strong anchor as the team of Joao Facciotti, Andreas Saavedra Sanchez, and Wolfe set Brilhante into position at a .58 second disadvantage. His split of 45.56 was enough to overtake the Bears team of Michael Mollak, Bolman, Jack Snow and Kacper Cwiek 3:10.10 to 3:10.50. It wasn’t enough to win it all though, as the Bears had gathered just enough points to secure the dual meet victory with a second place relay finish.
Saluki Head Coach Rick Walker had this to say after the meet: “We knew we would have our hands full today with a young team going up against MSU, the MVC Conference Champs for the women. We were not disappointed. With a lot of back and forth we managed to finish strong, going 1-2 on the final relay and winning the final outcome. On the men’s side we managed to get it to the last relay, but not enough to get our winning relay over the top. The Bears are a strong team on both sides and there is mutual respect from either campus. When we come together, there is sure to be fireworks. I am proud that it is a show based on proven ability; not on useless unsportsmanship. I am proud of our efforts today and I am sure Dave (Collins, MSU Head Coach,) is of his.”