ND Cross Country
Meunier a natural fit as a leader of 2016 Irish squad
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, August 31, 2016
In most cases, when a team loses the best athlete in the country, they can expect a worse season the next year. Yet, the Irish women’s squad is still poised to find success in 2016. The reason? The leadership of graduate student Sydni Meunier.
Leadership comes naturally for the Melvin, Illinois, native. Meunier was a volleyball and cross country standout in high school, as well as valedictorian of her class, and she said leadership is something she has grown into organically.
“I am someone who has definitely come into being confident in myself as I’ve gotten older,” Meunier said. “I’ve always led by example … I’ve done the work I thought I needed to be doing and listen to the coaches, and I’ve seen that naturally, people would follow me. That was through high school and my first couple years at Notre Dame, and then I saw the confidence of my coaches and my teammates in me grow and [they began] looking to me for advice or just verbally telling me, ‘Oh, we think you’re really a good leader.’”
And as she grew older, Meunier credited her coaches, teammates and parents in particular with giving her the courage she needed to step into the role of a leader.
“I feel like it’s been my coaches all along the way,” Meunier said. “Coaches before [Irish associate head] Coach [Matthew] Sparks and also Coach Sparks, as well, [encouraged me]. Also, my parents have been some of the people that have definitely been there, always and always encouraging me, and my teammates, as well.”
Now, as she gets set to lead the 2016 iteration of the Notre Dame squad, Meunier said she is happy to have the help of fellow graduate student Danielle Aragon.
“It’s great to have both of us back,” Meunier said. “I think it’s really special because she’s not only a teammate, she’s my best friend and my roommate for the last three years. It’s really fun to see how far we’ve both come because I’ve seen a lot of growth in her as well, which is really exciting. She has some virtues and attributes that are stronger than what mine are, and I have some that are stronger than hers in other areas. So I think that that plays off each other really well and accumulates into something special.”
Meunier’s journey to a leadership role was not without adversity. Last season, Meunier did not compete due to an injury, but she decided to fulfill her final year of eligibility because of her love of the sport.
“I’ve always loved running,” she said. “Running has been an outlet for me, as well as a way to see how far I can push myself and test my limits. It’s always been something that I wanted to see how fast I could go. I had a really great season to end my junior year and then had an injury that pretty much took me out all of the past year.
“I definitely knew that I wanted to see what I could do, so I wanted to definitely come back and be another year stronger.”
And now, entering her final season with the Irish, Meunier said she has taken a different perspective on competing — one that focuses on the here and now and treats every day as a blessing.
“I feel like [the injury] is just something that has made me feel really, really blessed and really lucky to be here and has given me a new perspective that, ‘Whatever happens, happens,’ [and] I’m going to work as hard as I can, and I’m going to have a great time while I do it with some of my best friends,” Meunier said. “It definitely makes me really excited and gives me that extra little adrenaline, thinking, ‘Wow, this is going to my last time putting on the Notre Dame uniform.’”
With her and Aragon at the tiller, Meunier said she expects 2016 to be fortuitous year for the Irish because of the close bond the team has formed.
“We have a really great core group … We’re running together everyday, we’re training together everyday.” Meunier said. “We’re in similar spots aerobically in our training, and we all had a really good learning experience together last year. Now the girls that were freshmen last year, they have that experience of racing at nationals and competing at that level, so that’s going to add to their confidence level for this year that they didn’t have last year. …We don’t only hang out together at practice.
“We do things outside of practice, and that’s such a crucial part that you can’t take for granted that I think is going to show on the cross country field and the track this year.”