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ND Cross Country: XC runners stick with the pack

Isaac Lorton | Monday, September 30, 2013

Collegiate cross country relies on individual performances in the most literal sense. After all, the individual finishing positions dictate the allocation of points.

But the team aspect is a huge part of the Notre Dame squad’s plan. The Irish demonstrated their emphasis on total team performance last Friday by taking spots two through seven on the men’s side of the National Catholic Championships at Notre Dame and separating themselves from the field with an aggregate score of 20.    

Irish coach Joe Piane said it is extremely important for the runners to motivate each other for scoring purposes.  

“You really have to support each other,” Piane said. “They all have to run right together; it takes everyone. You could have someone win the race but still lose the meet. You could have two guys go one and two, but that still won’t matter. Cross country is a team sport.”

In NCAA Cross Country meets, out of the seven runners, a team’s top five finishing positions combine to produce a cumulative score. Senior Martin Grady said the scores from runners deeper on the roster are just as important as the first couple of scores.

“Generally, the scores coming from the fourth and fifth guy are the most important,” Grady said. “We would much rather have good four and five scores. You can have one or two great runners at the front, but if the other scores aren’t as good, it doesn’t matter.”

The Irish try to foster this team aspect during practices, Piane said.

“It is all in how you practice,” he said. “For example, [today] we will have a very hard workout and push the guys and stress running as a group. The team aspect is something learned.”

Many of the Irish runners come out of high school as the best runners from their areas but have to learn to buy into running as a team, Piane said.

“Most come in as the best kid on their team,” he said. “They were the leaders. And sometimes it can be tough for them, but if they are knowledgeable of the sport, they will know it is best to run in a group as long as they can.”

Team bonding comes from the time spent practicing as a team and not as individuals, Grady said.

“I think the most important thing is just in practices,” Grady said. “Guys pull you along – pull you along in terms of workouts and to keep up with the pack. At practice we run five-five-five all of the time to make sure of this.”  

Grady said implementing a team aspect is about communication during practices and races.

“We talk a lot about it beforehand; guys commit to pack running before the race,” he said. “We say, ‘let’s all do this together and find each other out there.’ There is lots of talking going on during the race as well. I definitely talk a lot, like, ‘Let’s move up,’ ‘lookin’ good,’ stuff like that. I think it helps guys to motivate each other out there.”

If Notre Dame can follow up on its strong performance in the National Catholic Championships by continuing to run as a team, the results could be very positive, Piane said.

“Last week we were literally together to the last step,” Piane said. “But for upcoming meets, if we can get the guys to stick together for the first three miles, we are doing pretty good.”

Grady said the upcoming meets will present a challenge to the Irish, but the team mentality will remain with them.

“In the future, it is always great to run with your team, but we will have to run on average a minute faster,” Grady said. “We will still emphasize pack running, but it will be more segmented. There will be a group of two, then a group of three and then a group of two. You can’t exactly force a guy to run above his time or below his time, but there will still be groups.”  

The Irish next run together at the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 4.

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu