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ND Cross Country

ND looks to face tougher competition at Joe Piane Invite

| Thursday, September 29, 2016

The competition is heating up for the Irish, as Notre Dame hosts the Joe Piane Invitational on Friday at its Burke Golf Course.

“We’ve got three of the top five [women’s] teams in the country coming in with New Mexico, the defending national champion, Providence and NC State and some of the top individuals as well,” Irish associate head coach Matthew Sparks said. “It’ll be a good test for the entire team.”

Graduate Student Danielle Aragon races in the 2014 National Catholic ChampionshiptsObserver File Photo

Graduate Student Danielle Aragon races in the 2014 National Catholic Championships.

So far this season, the Irish took first in both the men’s and women’s competitions at the Crusader Open, hosted by Valparaiso, and the women took first while the men placed second in the National Catholic home meet two weeks ago.

However, the Joe Piane Invitational, named after the longtime, former Irish head track coach, will bring a whole new level of competition to South Bend. In addition to women’s No. 1 Providence, No. 3 New Mexico and No. 5 NC State, the Irish will also welcome ACC rivals Clemson and Florida State. Despite the increased quality of competition, Sparks said the team is focusing on the daily process to find results.

“We worry more about the day-to-day process of things than we worry about goals,” Sparks said. “It sounds funny, but if we take care of things day-to-day, then the preseason goals we talked about will come along with those. [The Joe Piane Invitational] is just another piece of the puzzle, and we’ll build for bigger and better things down the road. We don’t want to put too much emphasis on something in September, but it is a home meet, and everybody will take a little bit more pride in running well.”

Though it is still early in the season, Sparks did say he plans to use the meet to gauge where his team stacks up against both national and conference competitors.

“With 10 to 15 of the top teams in the country coming in on both sides, it will give us a good idea of not only where we fit in nationally, but also within our conference,” Sparks said. “Florida State’s a team on the men’s and women’s side we often compare ourselves too. Also NC State and North Carolina will both be here from our conference. Clemson will be here. So there’s several ACC opponents that we’ll see again in a month at the conference meet.”

With sophomore Anna Rohrer racing for the first time this season, Sparks said he hopes the women’s squad can compete for a top-five result, while the men’s squad can break into the top 15.

“If the women could be in the top five, we’d be excited. We’d like to try and take a run at one of those top teams — Providence, North Carolina State and New Mexico,” Sparks said. “Realistically, they’re all top five in the country, so if we can still take top five, we’ll still feel we’re where we need to be as far as goals at the end of the season go. If the men’s team could finish in the top 15, we’d beat some really noteworthy teams, and it would bode well for later in the season.”

Two weekends ago, Notre Dame’s strategy on the course centered around running in pairs, with an upperclassmen runner being paired with a freshman to give the younger athletes experience. Sparks said he plans to implement that same strategy in the race Friday.

“It’s always a comforting feeling to find your teammates who you train with everyday. They’re going to be on the lookout for those people,” Sparks said. “It’s going to be a much more congested field, so it will be much more difficult to find their training buddies, but if they can group up with somebody in the race, it gives you that much more confidence to know, ‘We’re running where we’re supposed to be, we train together every day, let’s keep working together.’ So there will some team concepts in mind come Friday.”

The Joe Piane Invitational is scheduled to begin Friday at 2 p.m. at Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course.

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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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