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ND Cross Country: Abernathy shines in late debut

Molly Sammon | Wednesday, September 9, 2009

After two seasons of waiting to run his first NCAA cross-country meet, junior Mat Abernethy had an impressive break-out race Friday by finishing third in Valparaiso’s Crusader Open.

“It was my first ever collegiate cross country race, so I was pretty nervous, but also very excited,” Abernethy said. “At the finish, I was 19:22, seven seconds off my roommate’s winning time.”

For Abernethy’s freshman year, he was unable to run based on problems with the NCAA. As a walk-on runner, Abernethy was not cleared for participation eligibility until late in the season which led him to decide that he should sit out that season.

“From that point, it took a while for the site to officially clear me to race,” Abernethy said. “It was already mid-season at this point, so it was just easier to redshirt rather than to run in potentially just one race.”

Abernethy’s ability to participate last season in his sophomore year was again inhibited, not by the NCAA but by a long string of injuries that completely halted his ability to run. In the summer leading up to the 2008 season, Abernethy was plagued with shin and hip problems that required a break from proper training.

“Racing a good cross country season is impossible if you haven’t put in enough work over the summer,” Abernethy said.

Abernethy spent the duration of the season doing cross training activities and preparing for the upcoming track and field season.

“In the end, though, it just wasn’t the same as running,” Abernethy said. “It took all cross country season last year to get completely healthy again.”

With a full summer of training behind him and his health back completely, Abernethy is well prepared to make a name for himself in his junior season.

“Last summer, one thing after another killed my training,” Abernethy said. “This year, I made sure to take care of any nagging pains to prevent something worse from developing.”

In last Friday’s Crusader Open at Valparaiso’s Sunset Hills Park, the Irish men’s team came in first place, and 10 of the first 11 runners to cross the finish line were from Notre Dame.

“A lot of the guys on our team ran well, and it was nice to practice running as a team in a race setting,” Abernethy said.

The next event for Abernethy and the men of the Notre Dame cross country team is the National Catholic Invitational on Sept.18 at Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course where they will see tougher competition and a longer race than last weekend.

“As for the rest of the season, I’m just trying to look at things one race at a time and to stay healthy,” Abernethy said. “National Catholic is up next, so I look forward to running my first collegiate 8K there.”