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ND Cross Country

Irish cap off season at NCAA Regionals

| Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Notre Dame finished its season by finishing in the top 10 at the Great Lakes Regional. The men’s team finished in ninth and the women’s team finished in sixth.

The tournament included stellar performances by junior Annie Heffernan and freshman Yared Nuguse. Heffernan finished in 16th place and Yared finished in 19th place in the 6,000-meter and 10,000-meter race, respectively. Associate head coach Matt Sparks praised both individual performances.

“Individually we had a couple of great performances, Annie and especially Yared, as a freshman, to finish in the top-25 — top 25 is All-Region — so it was especially exciting to see a freshman finish that high. A little bittersweet in that neither one of them qualified individually and that the teams didn’t qualify,” Sparks said.

The Irish failed to make the cut for the NCAA Championships after not finishing in an automatic qualification spot and not convincing the NCAA committee for an at-large spot. Sparks commented on how the Irish had not been impressive enough throughout the season to convince the committee, but also added that the future is bright for the young team.

“On the women’s side it was, by far, our best team performance of the year. We just didn’t do enough during the regular season to give ourselves a resume to get in that at-large invitation to the national meet. The five teams in front of us all got into the national meet and we were one of the last teams to get left out,” Sparks said.

“But, we’re excited for the future. The women return six of the seven that ran this weekend, and the men return five of the seven that competed this weekend,” he added. “So, we got a good push towards next year with the nucleus of those teams coming back.”

Despite not making it to the national meet, the Irish did manage to upset Ohio State, who were coming into the Regional as favorites to make it to the national meet. Sparks commented on how positive and important that was for the team.

“Yeah, they were a team that was ranked 25th in the country and a favorite to get into the national meet. So, we put a damper on their possibilities to qualify by us beating them,” Sparks said. “Once again it was a little bittersweet, but we want to find some positive and that was a good thing that we had going for us there and that we could find some light at the end of the season.”

Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish senior John Flannery competes in the Men’s Open Race during Notre Dame’s Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 29 at the Burke Golf Course.

After this bittersweet ending, leadership is key for keeping the team mentally healthy. Sparks commented on how important the role of team captains are and how different it was for the women’s team this year after the loss of team captain Anna Rohrer.

“[The roles of a captain are] a little bit different for each person. We’ve got several captains that lead a little bit more by example, that’s a little bit where Brent Kennedy would come in but, Kevin Pulliam — the other captain of the men’s team — is a little bit more vocal. He’s not afraid to call people out, and he’s a little bit more loud when it’s time to be loud,” Sparks said. “Almost equally as important is the role of being the liaison between the coach and the team, and keeping the coach abreast of any concerns or questions that the team might have.

“You know, losing Anna Rohrer who was our leader on the course — she was third in the nation last year, is redshirting this year and is she’s also a team captain — that was almost a double blow there. But, Rachel DaDamio had to pick up a lot of the slack. She’s one of our other captains on the women’s side. She had to wear a lot of different hats this year as far as being vocal, being the liaison with coach and trying to be that person that always leads by example — and she did a very good job of that.”

Sparks also reflected on the entire season and how important it is to takeaway positives, while also noting what could be improved.

“I think everyone learned a lot about what their strengths and weaknesses are and what they need to work on going forward. I think that if you can end the season recognizing those things, you can always come out with some positive experiences of it,” he said. “I think sometimes you can learn just as well from a negative as you can a positive.

“We had a couple of challenging races this year. And I think, through those challenges, everybody grew as people and learned what they need to work on and what they can do to better contribute to the team. I think everybody learned from those experiences and will come out of this cross country season better and more ready for track.”

There is still a bright future for the Irish, however, as a successful recruiting period will add top runners to both squads next season, combined with the fact that most members of the current team are set to return. Sparks talked about how the Irish runners are excited for the future of the team.

“On the women’s side, we’ll get Anna back next year. And then we’ve signed two of the top girls in the country coming in the next year,” he said. “On the men’s side, nearly that entire team returns, but they’ve also signed what’s arguably the top recruiting class in the country with three of the top-10 ranked guys in the country coming in.

“So, for both sides, there’s a positive feeling even though we ended on just missing the national meet. There’s a positive feeling going into 2018 as far as what we feel like we can do.”

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