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ND Cross Country

Squad heads to regional meet

| Wednesday, November 12, 2014

From the first day of summer practice, Notre Dame’s goal was set — send both the men’s and women’s squad back to the national championship meet.

Irish junior Molly Seidel makes her final push to the line en route to a victory at the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19.Wei Lin | The Observer

Irish junior Molly Seidel makes her final push to the line en route to a victory at the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19.

The Irish have the chance to attain that goal Saturday when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin, for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Meet.

On the women’s side, Notre Dame has a good chance of landing in one of the spots needed to qualify for consideration for an at-large berth, Irish coach Matt Sparks said. The first two teams in each of the nine regionals qualify for the championship, and every third and fourth place team is considered for one of the 13 remaining qualifying bids.

“Neither team will probably get an automatic spot,” Sparks said. “They’ll look at the third- and fourth-place teams and see how many wins they have over the 18 teams that have already made it. Wisconsin will probably be third on the women’s side, but they’ll get in because they have a lot of wins.

“So if they get in and we get fifth, they’ll move the fourth-place team to third and the fifth-place team in fourth, which would be us. … As long as we run somewhat as we did at the Notre Dame Invitational or the ACC championship, the women will be in a good spot to get one of those at-large bids.”

At the ACC championships on Oct. 31, the women’s squad cracked the top five, led by junior Molly Seidel, who earned all-ACC honors. The Irish topped two ranked squads and moved into the top 30 nationally at No. 29. The move in the coaches poll, combined with a strong two weeks of practice, has given the program a jolt of confidence, Sparks said.

“The women especially stepped up and performed well. The confidence has been building week by week, and we’ve had a couple great weeks of practice.” he said. “[Being ranked] gives a lot of confidence to the seven girls competing at the meet but also gives our program a level of respect.”

The team’s performance at the ACC meet helped make up for a disappointing final regular season race at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on  Oct. 17. Now, as the Irish return to Madison, they have put most memories of that race out of their mind, Sparks said.

“It’s just a much different field [this weekend],” Sparks said. “The invitational was 22 of the top 30 teams in the country, and now we’re going into a field that has five or six of the top 20 teams in the country, so it’s a little less competitive.

“But … we will have a more comfortable feeling, having competed there before. We didn’t run our best that day, but hopefully we learned from our mistakes.”

On the men’s side, the Irish will need to surprise several ranked teams for a shot at an at-large bid. The Great Lakes region contains four of the top 30 teams in the country — Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State —  and all four have handily defeated Notre Dame this year.

Although Sparks said he is not hopeful for a team bid for the men, he said the goal for the team is to qualify individuals for the national championship. The top four individuals in each region whose teams do not qualify advance to the NCAA championship.

“[Junior] Michael Clevenger was all-ACC a few weeks ago and has had an even better two weeks of training,” Sparks said. “I hope he can step up and claim an individual spot. … He and [junior] Tim Ball have a chance.”

The Irish will face an added wrinkle Saturday — the weather. The forecast calls for below-freezing temperatures with a chance of snow flurries, the coldest conditions Notre Dame has had to deal with all season.

“It’ll be a factor for everyone,” Sparks said. “Everyone is running in the same conditions. So it’s something we’re preparing for … but when the race starts, everyone’s running in the same conditions. At least we’re going to have grass to run on. That was a concern a few weeks ago, that we would be running on two or three inches of snow.”

Notre Dame heads to the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in Madison, Wisconsin, this Saturday.

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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