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ND Cross Country

Seidel claims NCAA title, leads women to eighth place

| Monday, November 23, 2015

For the first time in 73 years, Notre Dame can claim a national champion in cross country as senior Molly Seidel crossed the finish line five seconds ahead of her nearest competitor to claim the title at the NCAA championship Friday in Louisville, Kentucky.  

Seidel finished with a time of 19:28.6 and led the Irish women’s team to an eighth-place finish overall. With her latest victory, Seidel is now the only female in the program’s history to hold two individual NCAA titles, having won the 10,000-meter outdoor track and field championship in the spring. And though she is now the most decorated female athlete in Notre Dame cross country history, Seidel said she is more proud of the team than of herself.

“It’s really incredible,” Seidel said. “Our entire team has been working so hard. When we came into preseason camp back in August, this was definitely our whole focus for the year so being able to finish it up and finish up four years with the individual championship is really something special.”

Senior Molly Seidel runs in the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19, 2014. Seidel won the NCAA championship Friday. Wei Lin | The Observer

Senior Molly Seidel runs in the National Catholic Championships on Sept. 19, 2014. Seidel won the NCAA championship Friday.

Irish associate head coach Matthew Sparks praised Seidel’s achievement and said her success cemented the Notre Dame program as one of the best in the country.

“I think it validates the things we’ve been working towards for the last two years,” Sparks said. “We get a lot of high school superstars here and the key component we’re trying to breed in them is maintain that same level of confidence that you brought in when you walked in the door here. What Molly’s done obviously gives her a lot of confidence going forward, but just the entire program that we can compete on a national level with anybody on any day.”

From the start of the race, Seidel, along with freshman Anna Rohrer, set the pace for the Irish with the two often trading back and forth between first and second place. Seidel said having Rohrer in the leading pack helped her mentally.

“Definitely a psychological boost having my training partner right up there with me,” Seidel said. “Anna’s such a strong competitor. It really was cool to have her right up there, and I think she’s got such a bright future.”

While the future may be Rohrer’s, Friday was Seidel’s. Near the 14-minute mark of the race, Seidel made her move and left the rest of the field behind. The only other runner close to Seidel was Boise State freshman Allie Ostrander who beat Seidel in October at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. Seidel said she was looking to push hard to the end of the race and that her loss to Ostrander earlier in the year helped give her extra motivation.

“Coming down that final stretch, you never want to let let up until you’re all the way through the line so I was just gunning the entire way,” Seidel said. “I really wanted to keep pushing and not leave anything to chance.”

“Going into it, everybody has been saying [Ostrander was] the favorite in this race,” Seidel said. “[Sparks] kept telling me, ‘You’re a different runner at this race.’ We had put in all the work at this point, and I was ready and fresh and excited to go out. I definitely had that on my mind a little bit, knowing how that first meeting had gone … and not letting the second meeting go the way of the first.”

Behind Seidel, Rohrer finished sixth, freshman Rachel DaDamio finished 96th and graduate student Karen Lesiewicz finished 135th to give the women’s team the eighth place spot in the championship meet. Sparks said he is proud of the whole team for the effort they put in.

“[The eighth place finish] exceeds all expectations,” Sparks said. “We talked about top ten, and we hit that one. The unsung heroes are those girls who finish three, four, five for us. Everybody recognized Anna and Molly but Rachel DaDamio stepping up and finished where she was there in the mid-nineties. On paper it doesn’t look like a big thing, but if those three don’t do what they did, we’re not in the top eight as a team. Once again, it just validates the direction the program’s heading, and we just need to keep building on that for the future.”

Though the men’s team did not make it to the championship meet in Louisville, senior Michael Clevenger competed individually and finished in 38th place with a time of  30:27.9 to earn All-American honors.

Clevenger did not have a smooth race, however, as he tripped at the start of the race and had to pass the whole field in order to get All-American status.

“I slipped at the start line and I was kind of thinking, ‘Oh man I just ruined my race plan,’” Clevenger said. “I wanted to get out front and put myself in the race right from the start. … Because of what happened I wasn’t able to do that, and it forced me to change my plans of the fly. I was just so happy I was able to move up the pack and kind of get to the spot where I wanted to be. Then with a [kilometer] to go, I felt pretty good and was able to keep moving and pick some guys off and get into that top-40 spot.”

Sparks also praised Clevenger’s performance.

“He made a huge move, he was about 50th place with 400 meters to go, but he also knew that top 40 was All-American, and that’s something we talked about for a year now,” Sparks said. “It’s just a real testament to how tough the kid is to really gear down that last 400 meters and go after people. … He knew he had to pass 10 to 15 guys to make All-American and achieve his goal which he had worked for for the last 12 months.”

Though Seidel will graduate before next season, Sparks said he is excited about both teams moving forward.

“I’m most excited to see the development of freshman girls,” Sparks said. “Obviously, Anna’s where she is, but we have a lot of other freshman girls running at the national meet and throughout the year for us. … The men’s team, we’re going to return our entire top seven. I think the tone Michael set [on Friday] is going to resonate with the rest of the guys as they prepare … for next fall.”

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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