Ex-Burke star Saunders again breaks national shot put record

Southern Illinois freshman Raven Saunders, an ex-Burke High School standout, has broken the American junior record in the shot put two weeks in a row. (SIU Sports Information)

Raven Saunders has had an exciting start to her second semester at Southern Illinois University. The freshman from Burke High School has broken the national junior record in the shot put twice in two weeks, and on Monday experienced the first snow storm of her life.

“There’s no class today, so we went out and played in the snow,” Saunders said Monday from Carbondale, Ill. “It was great.”

Things are great for Saunders in the shot put ring, as well. After setting the U.S. under-19 record in the shot put a week ago, she broke her own mark on Saturday with a throw of 59 feet and 1/4 inch at the Fred Wilt Invitational at Purdue University.

That throw made Saunders the first female athlete in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference to hit the 59-foot mark as a collegian, and also set an SIU record. That’s saying something, considering that both the MVC and school records were held by three-time NCAA champion Jeneva McCall.

At all levels of competition — professional, college and high school — Saunders’ throw of 59-0 1/4 ranks first in the NCAA, third in the U.S. and seventh in the world so far in 2015.

That’s an increase of almost four feet from the throw of 55-8 1/4 that won Saunders the Class AA state title last year at Burke, and helped her win the Gatorade national girls track athlete of the year award for 2014.

“The coaching and the team here have been everything I expected,” Saunders said. “Being with my teammates, it’s an amazing feeling. At Burke, it was usually just me and my coach and maybe a couple of other people at workouts. Now, I have a whole group of really good throwers around me. That really helps a lot.”

With Saunders leading the way, SIU had four of the top five in the women’s shot put at the Purdue meet.

Saunders and her teammates will take aim at the MVC indoor title Feb. 28 at Northern Iowa. Then come the NCAA indoor championships March 13 at Arkansas, where Saunders should be a real threat to win her first NCAA championship.

After the outdoor season, Saunders will pursue her Olympic dreams at the USA Track and Field senior and junior nationals in Eugene, Ore., in June.

“My coach says if I do well, he’ll let me go to both the senior and junior nationals,” Saunders said.