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ND Cross Country

Anna Rohrer leads Irish into NCAAs with big expectations

| Friday, November 18, 2016

For the second consecutive year, the Irish are poised to make a top-10 showing at the NCAA championships.

Last year, Molly Seidel led the Irish to an eighth-place finish after becoming the first Notre Dame female athlete to win the NCAA individual cross country championship. Seidel is no longer competing, but Irish associate head coach Matthew Sparks believes the women’s squad has the tools to achieve an even higher finish in 2016.

“[Eighth place or higher] is still the goal. We feel like we’re in a good place to do that,” Sparks said. “We’ve checked the rankings, and we’re somewhere between 10th and 15th in the rankings going into this. We feel like we’re in a position to improve on that. We’ve got our runner up front with [sophomore] Anna Rohrer, but things are a little bit different than last year’s team. They score five runners. Our second through fifth runner are much improved from what they were a year ago.”

Though Seidel stole headlines last year, Rohrer finished in sixth behind her teammate and has become the face of the program in her second year at Notre Dame. Rohrer won the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 30 and won the ACC championship before finishing second in last week’s NCAA regional event. Sparks said Rohrer has a legitimate shot to win the individual title due to her familiarity with Lavern Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“She’s one of three or four people that are being discussed with a chance to win,” Sparks said. “She has more familiarity with this course than anyone being a home-state girl who’s run on this course six or seven times, so that should give her a boost.”

But to make a top-ten result a reality, the Irish will need more than just Rohrer to succeed. Graduate student Danielle Aragon, sophomores Rachel DaDamio and Annie Heffernan and senior Lexi Pelletier have made up the Irish top-five for most the season, and Sparks said Aragon in particular is poised for a big race after dealing with injuries in preview years.

“This’ll be actually her fourth time running in this meet,” Sparks said. “This is, by far, the most fit she’s ever been heading into this meet as well. She’s got a ton of confidence compared to her previous ventures to this point. I know the three other times, I don’t think she’s looked forward to it, because I think she knew she wasn’t ready. I know she’s on it to go out there and compete, because I know she is ready this time around.”

Even with three sophomores, the Irish have experience in big meets, and Sparks said that experience makes his job as a coach much easier this year as compared to last year.

“[I’m] considerably less stressed out as a coach, and I think the athletes are as well,” Sparks said. “Your first time doing anything, there’s a lot of anxiety — we’ve got four or five girls that have been in this race before, and I know they’re a little bit more calm going into this event as well. That’s a big piece of any competition. The game will slow down, the race will slow down and you can just see things developing. In any sporting event, if you have peace of mind going into it, you’re going to be better off.”

Sparks said one of the reasons he is less stressed is the overall health of the team.

“We’re good, we’re as healthy as we’ve been all year, and in any sport, that’s always a big component,” Sparks said. “The fitness is as strong as it’s been all year as well. The pieces of the puzzle are coming together at the right time.”

So instead of increasing the team’s workout load before the final meet of the season, Sparks said the final week of preparation has been centered on getting his athletes mentally prepared.

“It’s about finding that mental edge.” Sparks said. “Making sure everybody’s head is in the right place, making sure they know the race plan going into the meet. The fitness has all been gained through the summer and early fall, so there’s not fitness to be gained in this last week. It’s more about getting your mind right before this big race.”

The Irish take to the course at 11 a.m. Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana, as they race for the NCAA title.

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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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