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ND Cross Country

Notre Dame looks to build on success with deeper team

| Friday, August 26, 2016

Led by Molly Seidel and the top freshman class in the country, Notre Dame finished its season with an eighth-place showing at the 2015 NCAA championships, its best finish in a decade.

Now, however, Seidel is gone and the Irish look to reload as the 2016 campaign approaches. On the course, the loss of Seidel — as well as Karen Lesiewicz — will loom large, but Irish associate head coach Matthew Sparks said the team is still in good hands with graduate students Danielle Aragon and Sydni Meunier.

“We’ve got two really good fifth-year senior leaders,” Sparks said. “They both graduated, both opted to come back to fulfill another year of their athletic eligibility. … They’re doing a great job mentoring [the younger athletes].”

And though the 2016 iteration of the Irish women’s squad may not be as top heavy after Seidel’s departure, Sparks said his team will find success through its depth this season, while sophomore Anna Rohrer now leads the way.

“It’s a much different team,” Sparks said. “The roster looks pretty similar with the exception of Molly … obviously, that’s a big piece that you lose. The difference is going to be [that] we’re going to be a much deeper team. Whenever you have two people in the top 10, you’re going to look good in the team results. Now, we’re going to have success with the depth of our team. We feel like our number two through our number eight [runners] are all very interchangeable. Last year, we were barely fielding five or six girls that were competitive. We have a much deeper group of competitive girls.”

That depth includes runners like sophomores Annie Heffernan and Rachel DaDamio, who were both highly recruited prospects out of high school. Sparks said the extra year of experience will greatly benefit Heffernan, DaDamio and the rest of his younger runners.

“One thing that’s unique about a collegiate cross country runner is you’re also a collegiate track runner,” Sparks said. “When people see these girls that were freshmen last fall, [now] they’ve actually competed in indoor and outdoor track. Rachel, Anna and Annie have all had a couple of extra seasons to develop. As we race through the winter and spring in track, you always have in the back of your mind that you’ve got a cross country season coming up. So that gives them a better sense of maturity, since they’ve had a couple of extra track seasons under their belt. There’s a little bit more of a comfort level there.”

For the men’s team, 2015 was a struggle to find consistency. The men placed sixth in the ACC championships, and Michael Clevenger earned All-American status after a dramatic come-from-behind finish in the NCAA championships. This season, Clevenger and former captain Timothy Ball have graduated, and Sparks said he will look to seniors Chris Marco and Jacob Dumford to lead a freshmen-heavy team.

“They both had strong track seasons — both were very close to four-minute milers on the track,” Spark said. “But cross country’s a different game, where they have to race five-mile, six-mile races. So the men’s team’s going to lean on a freshman class that’s very talented, but unproven, obviously.”

Notre Dame starts its season with the Crusader Open in Valparaiso, Indiana, on Sept. 4 before moving onto two consecutive home meets — the National Catholic Invitational and Joe Piane Invitational — to finish the rest of the month. 

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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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