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ND Cross Country

Irish set to face country’s best teams at Joe Piane Invitational

| Friday, September 29, 2017

Notre Dame is set to race against the best schools in the country Friday in one of the most competitive Joe Piane Invitationals ever.

The Irish are defending their home course against 11 ranked opponents between the men’s and women’s portions of the competition. The No. 12 Irish will be facing two of the strongest women’s teams in the country in No. 1 Colorado and No. 3 New Mexico, but associate head coach Matt Sparks said his team welcomes the competition.

Irish senior Jessica Harris competes in the National Catholic  Invitational on Sept. 15 at Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course.Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish senior Jessica Harris competes in the National Catholic
Invitational on Sept. 15 at Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course.

“On the women’s side, we’ve got four of the top-10 ranked teams in the country coming in, including No. 1 Colorado,” Sparks said. “It’s always exciting to welcome the best teams in the country. New Mexico and Colorado are the two that are especially strong right now.”

Sparks also added that the Irish will be content with being one of the top schools in the meet.

“We need, as a team — a team goal — to finish, on the women’s side, in the top eight,” Sparks said. “If the men’s side can finish in the top 12, we’ll be excited about that.”

With a men’s team that has a lot of relatively young and inexperienced talent, Sparks said this meet will test the team’s resiliency.

“On the men’s side, we’ve got a lot of freshmen and newcomers on the team; this is going to be their first big meet experience as well, we’ve had two other competitions against lesser, less competitive teams,” Sparks said. “So now bringing in high-level competition to our home course, we’ll get to see how all the newcomers perform when the pressure is on.”

After the solid performance by junior Annie Heffernan and freshman Anna Sophia Keller at the National Catholic Invitational, Irish fans should expect another great outing from the duo. Sparks had praise for the both women coming into the meet.

“Annie’s had a great two weeks of practice and being the veteran that she is, we already know what to expect out of her,” Sparks said. “She always rises to the occasion when we get to big meets, so we know she’s going to perform the way she’s performed in practice and in previous years.

“ … With Anna Sophia running so well in the first meet, in a smaller competition, now let’s see what she can do when she has to race against the best in the country. She has raced against the best in high school, she was a high school All-American, so we expect her to rise to the occasion as well.”

This will be the second, and last, home meet of the season for the Irish. Sparks commented on the unique experience to host a race.

“It’s always a unique experience to compete on your home course when the kids have to go to class all day Friday morning and then come out and compete Friday afternoon. When you’re on the road, you’re sitting in a hotel and it’s just you and your teammates for that 24 hours leading up to the competition.”

The Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational will start at 1 p.m. Friday at Burke Golf Course.

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