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ND Cross Country

Irish prepare for tough test in hosting National Catholic Invitational

| Friday, September 15, 2017

Notre Dame will compete in the first major event of the regular season Friday at the National Catholic Invitational, which will feature 40 teams, including 11 Division I schools, in what will be the first of two home meets this regular season.

Irish associate head coach Matt Sparks described Friday’s meet as a “much more competitive event” than the team’s last meet at the Crusader Open two weeks ago. Sparks named a few schools who will prove the toughest competition for the Irish.

Irish junior Anna Rohrer competes in the Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 30 at Burke Golf Course. Rohrer finished first in the race.Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish junior Anna Rohrer competes in the Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 30 at Burke Golf Course. Rohrer finished first in the race.

“The bigger competition will come from Dayton, Marquette, and St. Louis on the men’s side and the women’s side as well,” Sparks said. “All those teams will bring their A-games and their varsity group.”

Apart from this meet being the first of the regular season with multiple competitive opponents, this will also be the first meet of the season that follows the usual meet structure. Sparks said this meet will be more the norm for the Irish, in terms of what they will face this season.

“It’s going to be a big invitational with 30 to 40 teams,” Sparks said. “The first meet had three or four squads there, so this will be a bigger test across the board. It’s going to be our standard competition that we’ll see for the rest of the season.”

This will thus, be an important test for the Irish team as every meet gets more competitive.

“Each meet we have, for both genders, is more competitive,” Sparks said. “The Valparaiso [meet] was very low key, not a very competitive event. [The National Catholic Invitational] will be a little bit more competitive. So, each meet, as the season goes, becomes a bigger challenge for the teams.”

For a men’s team that is very young, with more than a handful of freshmen, this will also be the first collegiate level meet with the standard run distance. Sparks described the challenges of the longer race distance, saying it can be difficult to transition to the longer race in college. He is confident in the team’s ability to adapt to the challenge, however.

“At the high school level they race for 5,000 meters, collegiately, they’re going to race 8k and 10k, so their race distance nearly doubles,” Sparks said. “That’s maybe the biggest transition for them. … All of those young men bring to the table elite experience throughout their high school life; they were all state-level competitors and most of them were state champions at some level, and competed nationally in different events. So, they have a lot of confidence … it’s just the length of distance and the training that goes along with that is something that takes a little bit of adaptation.”

The women’s team does not have a distance change between the high school and collegiate level.

The women’s side is also, expected to perform well as Notre Dame is currently ranked No. 8 in the country, with freshman Anna Sophia Keller expected to make an impact. Sparks has high expectations for the Effingham, Illinois, native, who holds the cross-country state record for division 1A and was an 11-time state champion in high school.

“We’ve got a freshman that was one of the top girls in the country last year,” Sparks said. “She should be able to fly it in and be very similar, obviously, hopefully better, than she was in high school in Anna Sophia Keller.”

In addition to Keller, the Irish also benefit from rising star Yared Nuguse, who was chosen as ACC Freshman of the Week after his first-place finish in the Crusader Open.

“Yared is probably the best sprinter [of the freshmen],” Sparks said. “If you watched the race, the team ran as a group for the first 90 percent of the race, and then [assistant coach Sean] Carlson, turned the guys loose. [Yared]’s winning of that award is a reflection upon the entire freshman group and the strength of all of them.”

The National Catholic Invitational will be held at Burke Golf Course on Friday at 3:30 p.m.

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