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ND Cross Country

Everett: Irish youth may become tipping point for squads

| Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In many sports, but perhaps most of all in running, youth is highly coveted.

Irish sophomore Tyler Keslin competes in the Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 30 at Burke Golf Course.Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish sophomore Tyler Keslin competes in the Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 30 at Burke Golf Course.

The excitement, energy and potential that new runners bring can give a team a huge boost, and Notre Dame is hoping for a similar effect this season. While both the men’s and women’s teams are expected to maintain or exceed last season’s results, it could very well be the underclassmen that propel them to new heights.

First and foremost, this year the youth movement can be most clearly observed on the men’s side. The Irish had eight freshmen make their Notre Dame debuts at Friday’s Crusader Open in Valparaiso, Indiana, and quite a few turned in impressive performances. Yared Nuguse earned first place and won the meet with a time 18:09.03. Vincent Zona finished in third place overall with a time of 18:16.03, while Andrew Alexander took eighth place on the team. Additionally, several sophomores turned in noteworthy performances. Ryan Schweizer placed second overall with a time of 18:14.5, while fellow sophomore Tyler Keslin finished fourth overall with a time of 18:16.7. The top four finishers of the men’s race at the Crusader Open were Notre Dame underclassmen, and that has to be exciting prospect to build off for the Irish coaching staff.

Now, I realize the inherent flaw of predicting how the season will unfold based on one performance from an individual in what is largely considered an exhibition meet. Associate head coach Matt Sparks noted the uncertainty of the men’s team on Aug. 30, saying that there are “a lot of unanswered questions.” However, since Sparks also commented that the Crusader Open would be a good indicator, these results could be indicative of future success, and therefore can serve as a basis of extrapolation.

Let’s look at who could be in the top seven for the men. Taking the top seven of last year’s final meet — the Great Lakes Regionals — as the baseline, the Irish men will have to replace graduates Chris Marco and Jacob Dumford. Senior captains Brent Kennedy and Kevin Pulliam should lock down two spots, while junior Anthony Williams should be near the top after a strong performance last season. Here’s where the real extrapolation kicks in. Because he finished fourth at the Great Lakes Regional last year, sophomore Tyler Keslin would be predicted to finish fourth on the team this year behind the previously named individuals. However, since he also finished fourth this year at the Crusader Open behind three fellow underclassmen, that means that assistant coach Sean Carlson and the Irish could have three new underclassmen — Nuguse, Zona and Schweizer — in the top seven, which would indicate a much improved Irish squad from last season, and one that could eclipse the preseason prediction of seventh place within the Great Lakes Region.

Now, to the women’s team. Led by defending ACC champion and junior Anna Rohrer, the Irish return six of the seven individuals who took home second place at the Great Lakes Regional last year. Danielle Aragon will be missed, but her absence allows the opportunity for youth to shine. Aragon’s spot in the top seven will most likely be filled by freshman Anna Sophia Keller, an 11-time high school state champion who took home second place at the Crusader Open in a time of 17:14.2. Twice named the Gatorade Illinois Runner of the Year, Keller appears ready to contribute in a big way to the women’s team, as Sparks said on Aug. 30, that he expects the freshman to “step in and be a part of the top seven.”

Therefore, with the rest of the women’s top seven proven, yet eager to improve, the No. 8 Irish should be able to compete with defending regional champion Michigan for the Great Lakes Regional championship, especially since the Wolverines lost top runner and senior Erin Finn from last season’s squad.

All in all, the youth of both the men’s and women’s teams generates both uncertainty and excitement for their potential and ceiling. Whether the underclassmen will actually end up being the tipping point for both team’s to eclipse their expectations will remain to be seen, but at least one thing is certain: the future of both teams appears bright.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Joe Everett

Joe is a junior PLS major and hails from the thriving metropolis of South Bend, IN. He is a proud resident of Stanford Hall and the defending champion of the Observer's Fantasy Football league.

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