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ND Cross Country

ND heads to conference championship

| Wednesday, October 29, 2014

After a season of inconsistent results, Notre Dame begins its run to qualify for the national championship meet this Friday at the ACC championships in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Irish junior Molly Seidel sprints to the finish line during the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19 at Notre Dame Golf Course. Seidel won the race and led the women’s squad to the team title. Wei Lin | The Observer

Irish junior Molly Seidel sprints to the finish line during the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19 at Notre Dame Golf Course. Seidel won the race and led the women’s squad to the team title.

In their final tune-up for the conference championship, the Irish finished in 30th place on both the men’s and women’s side at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 17.

Since 2004, the Irish have competed in four regular season meets each year before entering their conference championship. Before this year, neither squad had finished lower than 26th in any of those meets.

However, the poor finish at Wisconsin was not indicative of how well Notre Dame has been performing in practice, Irish coach Matt Sparks said.

“We trained well heading into Wisconsin. We’ve trained well [since] Wisconsin,” Sparks said. “We had a nice fall break and built our confidence while maintaining our fitness. So it’s just a matter of being more confident in our training. … The conditioning is there. It’s just getting our minds straight.”

In addition, the ACC championship will play to Notre Dame’s strengths, as the smaller field of 15 teams will make it easier for both teams to run in packs, Sparks said. It will be the smallest group of runners the Irish have raced against since the season-opening Crusader Open on Sept. 5.

“There’s a greater peace of mind when you’re competing in those smaller fields,” Sparks said. “You can see the front of the race and feel more confident in what you’re doing. I think at the Wisconsin meet, we lacked confidence as a result of being lost in the larger, nationally competitive field. With the majority of our top five … hopefully finishing in the top 40 in the ACC, being in the front of that group, you can find your teammates better, and that gives you confidence, running with the people you train with every day.”

In a preseason poll of ACC coaches, the Irish were projected to finish sixth on the women’s side. At Wisconsin, the women finished sixth out of seven ACC teams, beating Duke, who was ranked fourth in the preseason poll, but losing to Boston College, ranked ninth.

“We’re facing five teams ranked in the top 30 in the country,” Sparks said. “And we’ve competed [with] each one of those teams at one point this year. North Carolina State beat us by 10 at our own invitational. Boston College is another team we can compete with, so we’re hoping to break through into the top five on the women’s side.”

Earlier this year, the women placed third at the Notre Dame Invitational, defeating two ranked opponents and jumping to No. 28 nationally for a short period. In order to repeat that performance, the Irish will need the bottom half of their varsity seven to step up, Sparks said, including sophomore Taylor Driscoll, junior Sydni Meunier and senior Karen Lesiewicz.

The [entire varsity squad] has trained well all season really,” Sparks said. “They’re starting to buy into [the idea of] running together more. That’s a key components for these ladies, to find each other in the race and work together. At the Notre Dame Invitational, when they ran well, they ran together.”

On the other hand, the men’s team has struggled to match the women’s performance this year and needs veteran leaders to perform and boost the team’s confidence, Sparks said.

“[Junior] Tim Ball has been leading us all year, but the guys we really need to step up are [junior] Michael Clevenger and [senior] Jake Kildoo,” Spark said. “They’ve really stepped up the last two weeks of practice and challenged Tim. Their fitness and their confidence is all coming together at the right time.”

The Irish were picked to finish seventh in the conference. In Wisconsin, the team placed last against three conference foes, including third-ranked Syracuse, who took home the team title at the invitational. Six ACC squads are either ranked in the top 30 national poll or received votes.

“On the men’s side, a top five finish is also within our grasp,” Sparks said. “Top five on both sides is something to shoot for.”

Notre Dame competes in the ACC championships this Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia. The women’s race is scheduled to go off at 10 a.m., with the men following at 10:45 a.m.

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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