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ND Cross Country

Irish kick off fall season

| Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tonight, both the men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete at the Crusader Open in Valparaiso, Ind., beginning their first season in 39 years without retired coach Joe Piane.

Not that the Irish are too focused on the past. With the recent hiring of Matt Sparks to coach both the cross country program and the distance runners in track and field, Notre Dame has had less than a month to prep for the first race of the season. After finishing 23rd and 29th in the country for the men’s and women’s NCAA Championships last year, respectively, Notre Dame will take a look to the future this weekend by challenging the younger athletes to lead the team to success. Thirteen of the 14 athletes traveling to the meet are either freshmen or sophomores.

Irish junior Kevin Durham runs with the pack during the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 4.Observer File Photo

Irish junior Kevin Durham runs with the pack during the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 4.

Sparks has said that he plans to hold the upperclassmen from the meet in order to get the younger runners the experience they need both for this season and for the rest of their career.

“What we’re going to do on Friday is keep the veteran upperclassmen out of the meet and they … get a good workout in Thursday and Friday,” Sparks said. “The younger freshmen and sophomores that need to come out and break some rust off and show the new coach and show the program [what they can do]. A lot of the sophomores haven’t gotten the chance to race yet, so they’ll get their feet wet in college racing. Hopefully, we’ll bring home the win for the Irish”.

The Irish did well in last year’s Crusader Open, with the women’s team claiming first place and the men’s team placing second. However, the Irish raced several of their upperclassmen in last year’s event, and only three of the Irish athletes running at Valparaiso this season competed there last year. Overall, the women’s side will race five athletes, while the men’s team is bringing nine runners. All but six of the runners will be competing in their first collegiate race.

The more veteran Irish runners will wait to make their season debut until the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19 at Notre Dame Golf Course.

In Sparks’ transition to the leader for the distance runners, he said that the first couple of weeks of training have been more about getting to know his athletes than anything else.

“I think we’re starting to get more comfortable with each other as the days go by, but there’s still a lot of learning to be done,” Sparks said. “We know each others’ names at least, and at this point we’re learning the Xs and Os and the specifics that make each person better. Initially it was just, ‘here’s a general philosophy of Coach Sparks,’ and now its getting into the specifics of what makes [each runner] go faster. Because everybody has their little intricacies that can push them over the top.”

The Irish begin their season at Sunset Hills Park in Valparaiso, Ind., with the women’s team starting their race at 6 p.m. and the men’s squad following at 6:45 p.m.

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About Manuel De Jesus

Manuel De Jesus is a junior from Chicago, Illinois. He is an American Studies major with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He is currently covering ND Volleyball, Men's Soccer and Men's Basketball.

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