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ND Cross Country

Irish expand goals under new leadership

| Monday, August 25, 2014

Their coach might have changed, but their goals have not. If anything, they have increased.

With the retirement of longtime coach Joe Piane this summer, Notre Dame will face its first season with a new coach in 39 years. But there are no plans for a rebuilding year, as the men return three and the women five of the seven runners who competed at the NCAA championships. The men finished in 23rd place, while the women ended the race 29th out of 31 teams.

Irish junior Michael Clevenger turns a corner during the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 4.Observer File Photo

Irish junior Michael Clevenger turns a corner during the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 4.

“[Making it back to the NCAA championship] is one of our main goals this year, and we definitely want to place better than we did last year,” junior Molly Seidel said. “We didn’t reach our goal of placing at nationals that we had last year, and I think that that reminder of not quite reaching that goal and doing not as well as we wanted to do is kind of a fire under the butt for this year to really give it everything that we have. We definitely have high expectations.”

Entering the season, the Irish are ranked seventh on the men’s side in the Great Lakes region, while the women are slotted in eighth, below their finish last year of third and fourth, respectively. Only the top-two teams in each region earn automatic bids into the national championship, while the Irish advanced on at-large bids.

While last year’s NCAA championship was a disappointment, especially for the women, the ACC championship was a bright spot for both squads, with the men finishing in third and the women in fourth. Four Irish athletes earned all-ACC honors, including senior Hannah Eckstein, who will join Seidel as one of Notre Dame’s top returning runners. Repeating that success at this year’s conference championship has been an early focus of new head coach Alan Turner and distance coach Matt Sparks, Seidel said.

“We were just talking about [goals] with the team and Coach Turner,” Seidel said. “He said that one of the biggest goals is to go in to ACCs hoping to place really well or even win it. … I think if we work really hard and everyone stays healthy, then it’s a real possibility so hopefully we get some results from that.”

While Turner has already spent four years with the Irish program as an assistant and associate coach, his new position has brought some change to the teams

“It’s been a little bit hectic these first few days,” Seidel said. “There’s been a lot of changes with [weight training] and the roster. … [But Turner’s] been with the program for a while. He’s a great guy. I think it’s a great opportunity for the team. He’s someone that people already know and trust, and I think that people are looking forward to having him in that position. One of the biggest changes in cross [country] is the addition of … Coach Sparks, so we’re looking forward to get to know him a little.”

Last year’s varsity returners on the women’s side are Seidel, Eckstein, junior Sydni Meunier and seniors Emily Frydrych and Gabby Gonzales. The men return juniors Michael Clevenger and Timothy Ball and seniors Jake Kildoo and Christopher Quinn. While Notre Dame’s first meet of the fall season is Sept. 5 at the Crusader Invitational in Valparaiso, Ind., the varsity squad will not race for another few weeks so the squad’s younger runners will get their first chance at collegiate racing.

The varsity runners will not debut until the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19 at the Notre Dame Golf Course. The Irish have captured both the men’s and women’s titles in this meet for the past five years.

Notre Dame starts its season at the Crusader Invitational in Valparaiso, Ind., on Sept. 5.

 

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg