ND Cross Country
ND aims to move up at NCAAs
Greg Hadley | Wednesday, November 19, 2014
All season long, Notre Dame’s women planned on returning to the NCAA championship in Terre Haute, Indiana, and erasing the memory of last year’s bottom-five performance, Irish coach Matt Sparks said. Now, the Irish have the chance to do just that Saturday.
“The team needs to improve on our finish from last year,” Sparks said. “They were 29th out of 31 [teams] so we definitely want to improve on that and try to be in the top 25. That would keep us moving in the right direction. We want to keep moving [up], year after year.”The Irish women earned a return to the championship last Friday at the Great Lakes regional race, where they finished in sixth place. The squad was one of four at-large bids from the Great Lakes region — the most in the nation — joining the region’s two automatic qualifiers. All five teams that finished ahead of Notre Dame at the regional meet are nationally ranked — No. 1 Michigan State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 18 Michigan, No. 21 Toledo and No. 22 Ohio State.
In addition, Notre Dame was one of eight teams from the ACC to qualify for the national meet, tops among all conferences in the country. At the ACC championships, the Irish finished in fifth place, and the high level of competition has prepared the team for the national stage, Sparks said.
“We were in the toughest conference in the country,” Sparks said. “We were in the toughest region in the country. … Even looking back at the last six weeks, with the Wisconsin Invitational, which was a little bit of a down race for us, but that was the best race in the country all year before the national championship, so we’ve had the most challenging last three competitions of anyone in the country, so that gives us a little bit of confidence, knowing what to expect and knowing we’ve run against the best teams out there.”
The Irish also have the added benefit of competing close to home, as Terre Haute is less than four hours away from Notre Dame’s campus. Over fall break, the Irish traveled to McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer, Indiana, which is thirty miles away from Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, the site of the championship. There, they had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the course, Sparks said.
“We did a workout [there] on Oct. 21, just on the thought that ‘Hey, we hope to be back here in a month, so let’s get out on this course and workout on it,'” Sparks said. “We’ve raced there before and trained there before, so while it’s still a national course and away from home, we’re pretty familiar with it.”
Individually, Notre Dame wants to leave a mark, Sparks said. Junior Molly Seidel has already earned all-ACC and all-region honors with top-five finishes in both races, and is trying to become the first female All-American for the Irish since 2009.
“Molly’s in a position where she could finish in the top 40, which would make her an All-American,” Sparks said.
This would mark a significant jump from last season, when Seidel finished in 171st place overall.
On the men’s side, Michael Clevenger will compete as an individual for Notre Dame at the finals after finishing in sixth place at the regional meet. While the rest of the men’s team has used the past week to recover from the long season, Clevenger has continued to train hard alongside graduate student Martin Grady. Grady, who earned All-American honors last season for the Irish, has exhausted his eligibility for cross country, but is preparing for a final season on the track. Sparks said Grady has been a great help to Clevenger’s training.
“Michael is running for a top-40 spot as well,” Sparks said. “Martin has an understanding of what it takes to get in that top 40, so Michael knows he can train with Martin every day of the week and that gives him a lot of confidence, knowing he has teammates and training partners that are doing exactly what he’s trying to do. His confidence has grown by the week. He had a decent conference meet and he took a big step forward at the regional meet, and I know he knows he’s more fit than he’s ever been.”
Clevenger and the women’s squad travel to Terre Haute, Indiana, for the NCAA championship this Saturday. The women’s race goes off at noon, with the men following at 1 p.m.