ND Cross Country
Sparks, Irish ready for season
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, September 3, 2015
Notre Dame will begin its season in the Crusader Invitational on Friday at Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Though it is the first meet of the season, Irish head coach Matthew Sparks said he is approaching the Invitational as an exhibition, so he will be resting most of his starting lineup, including seniors All-American Molly Seidel, Danielle Aragon and Michael Clevenger and freshman Anna Rohrer.
“It’ll be a very low-key meet,” Sparks said. “We’re holding out … our entire top seven.
“On both sides [men’s and women’s], for the most part we’re counting on underclassmen to try and step up and to give them the experience [to] contribute to the team’s success.
“In a lot of ways, it’s an exhibition for the freshman and sophomores … to get a chance to run in a more varsity-like appearance.”
Even though the veterans of the starting lineup will not be competing this weekend, they have been preparing and training as if they were, Sparks said.
“Those athletes that are going to be counted on come championship time are training through the early part of the season,” Sparks said.
“Last week we had a couple of guys on the team run over 100 miles a week. We’re going to keep that high volume of training going. We want to keep things pretty high in volume, high intensity so we’re more fit at the end of the year.”
Many freshman and sophomores will get a taste of this high intensity and competition in their debut race for the Irish at the Crusader Invitational. Sparks said he and his coaching staff encourage the new runners to approach the meet like any other race.
“We’re going to preach, ‘it’s just another race’,” Sparks said. “The neat thing about cross country is that kids race [five kilometers] in high school and they’re racing [5 kilometers] in college.
“I know [the runners] are wearing a college jersey and for many of them, it’s their dream college jersey, so one, be proud to wear the jersey, [and] two, it’s just another race.
“Don’t get too worked up, it’s just another race.”
And while Sparks aims to give his underclassmen experience with this race, he said he is also looking for another breakout runner to contribute alongside Clevenger this season.
“That’s one of the goals for the men’s program is to be at the national meet at the end of November,” Sparks said.
“[We] had a couple of guys who really broke through in the track season. [Junior] Jacob Dumford was a guy that scored in the ACC championship meet in the Spring in outdoor track, he’s a junior now and feeling much more comfortable running college cross country.
“[Junior] Chris Marco is another young man that was more of a middle distance runner in track, but has the ability to run cross country with the best of those guys and had consistent weeks, over a hundred miles per week.
“And [senior] Tim Ball is our other senior leader along with Michael [Clevenger]. Those are the three senior-statesman who we expect not just to carry the load from a performance standpoint, but those are our locker room leaders as well.”
Besides testing his lineup, Sparks said the heat is another challenge the team this weekend.
“The other variable out there is it’s supposed to be 85-90 degrees,” Sparks said. “It’s a long race, make sure you’re well-hydrated and have enough gas in the tank for the last half of the race. It’s kind of awkward this last week we had a cold week and it warmed up this week, so adjusting back to the heat has been a bit of a challenge. But everyone’s dealing with the heat so we can’t use that as a crutch.”
The Irish will race in the Crusader Invitational on Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Valparaiso, Indiana.