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ND Cross Country

National Catholic Invitational provides Irish with opportunity for improvement

| Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Coming off a clean sweep of the top-five spots in both the men’s and women’s competitions at the Crusader Open two weeks ago, Notre Dame will race at home for the first time this season when it hosts the National Catholic Invitational on Friday.

Irish associate head coach Matthew Sparks said he expects the Irish to challenge for the top spots again, but he also emphasized the theme of constant improvement and plans to achieve this by having his more experienced runners run alongside younger members of the team.

“Of course we want to challenge for the win on both sides,” Sparks said. “We feel like we’ve got two good squads that can do that. But along the way, we want to try and run a controlled race and hold for the future, bigger events. Some of the kids that could pull away from the group and win … we’re going to hold them back a little bit more and pair them with someone younger. So [sophomore Anthony] Williams, who’s had a great month of practice, but he’s going to work to run with [freshman] Kevin Salvano and make sure Kevin has a good first experience in the first five mile race of the year.

“Same thing with [sophomores] Rachel [DaDamio] and Annie [Heffernan] — they’ve had a great month of practice, but they’re going to relax a little bit and work with some of the other girls and make sure the entire team has a good first experience and is confident heading into the Notre Dame Invite, which is going to be a much more competitive event.”

DaDamio and Heffernan, along with sophomore Anna Rohrer, will all play big roles in Notre Dame’s late season drive, but Sparks said a key to success later is to build towards the end as opposed to wearing his athletes out. To that effect, Sparks mentioned Rohrer will not race this weekend and the rest of the team’s runners have been told to keep their long-term goals in mind.

“If you look back at last year’s National Catholic results, Annie was third overall and then she sort of faded throughout the rest of the year,” Sparks said. “So we’ve pressed upon, not just Annie, but all the men and women that it’s a long season and take it week by week. Don’t get overly excited this early. Especially the freshmen are particularly excited to race at home for the first time, the thing we’ll continue to impress upon them is the conference and the regional meet are still a while away. Take things slowly, it’s a long season and stay fresh and healthy throughout.”

For the men, Sparks said he is most excited for Salvano and the confidence he brings to the squad.

“[Salvano] brings a lot of confidence for a young guy,” Sparks said. “He was an Illinois state champion, one of the most competitive states in the country. Whenever you’re the state champion from one of those marquee meets, you feel good about yourself and gain a lot of confidence from that experience. And that’s transitioned really well in the first month or so he’s been practicing here with us. … He’s young, but he does have a lot of confidence for us as a freshman.”

The National Catholic is the first of two consecutive home meets for the Irish, and for the freshman on the teams, it will be their first home action. Sparks said the freshmen tend to get especially excited about racing at home

“I think it helps and hurts you,” Sparks said. “It’s still early, and [the freshmen] get pretty fired up running at home and defending their home territory. But then early in the year, the season is ten weeks long, and if you come out like gangbusters that first event, where’s your level of enthusiasm going to go from there? You want that intensity to go as the season progresses. So we’re going to try and temper that enthusiasm a little bit early and continue to grow as the weeks grow because the next home meet’s going to be much more competitive for both the men and women.”

The National Catholic Invitational is set to get underway at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

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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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