ND Cross Country
Irish depth prepares squad for season
Joe Everett | Wednesday, September 6, 2017
As Notre Dame moves past its performance at the Crusader Open and into the heart of its regular season, the coaching staff is busy preparing the Irish for both current and future success.
While the veterans of the team have gone through the rigors of a full cross country season, complete with hours on hours of training and preparation, for the newcomers to the team, there is a period of adjustment. On the women’s side, freshmen Anna Sophia Keller is currently increasing her training regimen in preparation to run varsity at the National Catholic Invitational on Sept. 15, and associate head coach Matt Sparks believes the high school star will be able to successfully translate her talents to the college level.
“The thing we’re looking at for her is that she’s got a lot of big-meet experience,” Sparks said. “Winning eleven state championships and competing nationally at the National Cross Country Championship level … there’s a lot of confidence that comes along with that. With our program where it is right now — having done things on the national level the last couple years — we expect her to slide into a varsity top five spot for us from the first time out … starting next week at the National Catholic meet.
“…Over the last three or four days, she’s been infused into our varsity rotation, working out with [junior] Annie Heffernan, [senior] Jessica Harris and [junior] Rachel DaDamio. She’s slid into that group very well. Once she acclimates to a bit more run training, then we’ll start to see big steps forward for her.”
Meanwhile, the men’s team has a much different look to it this year, in terms of both personnel and potential. Thanks to the efforts of assistant head coach Sean Carlson, this year’s roster has been restocked after high school recruiting and grad student transfers, and the team could see important production from its youngest all the way to its oldest members.
“The key to their resurgence has been coach Carlson,” Sparks said. “He’s taken over the last twelve months — both recruiting and coaching — and he’s done a great job of bringing in eight freshmen, but also three transfers to bring some veteran leadership to the team. Of course we have [seniors] Brent Kennedy and Kevin Pulliam as the captains, but Connor [Sheryak], Elijah [Silva] and Bradley [Wattleworth] are three fifth-year seniors that have run at various levels of competition. So it’s a good balance: newcomers that have been competing at an elite level in the high school ranks, to go along with the fifth year seniors, and then to mix them in with the returning runners.
“…I’m particularly excited to see where [freshman] Yared Nuguse and [sophomore] Ryan Schweizer end up,” Sparks said. “They were the front end guys for us [at the Crusader Open], and those two were also the only guys [who run the mile] in that group, so they ran a pretty conservative first 5K. There are still a lot of question marks, and I know coach Carlson has to figure out who’s going to run top nine next week. [Freshman] Brian Griffith was a Foot Locker qualifier and was one of the top 40 guys in the country there last fall. [Freshman] Vincent Zona was someone we didn’t know what his fitness level was, but he really stepped up and ran well last Friday. The list goes on and on, and I could list an attribute about all those freshmen that makes us excited about not only what they’re going to do this year, but for the next four years.”
Overall, while the success and training of both the current men’s and women’s teams remains paramount, the coaching staff knows the future of the program is just as important this time of year, as Sparks spoke about the recruitment process.
“Something that’s unique about Notre Dame is our admission deadlines,” Sparks said. “A lot of schools won’t start until after cross country’s over, but for us a big recruiting period is September and October. Part of that is that the type of kids you’re recruiting are proactive about making their collegiate decisions, simply based on their academic backgrounds and just being well-thought out, well-planned people. … They have to apply to Notre Dame by December, so these months in September and October are a very busy season — for our current student-athletes, which Sean and I are busy coaching and traveling with the team — but we’re also busy week in and week out with home visits and bringing kids [to campus] for visits basically every weekend.”
As it always does, the next few months will determine a lot for the Notre Dame cross country program, but if the dedication of the coaching staff is any indication, the Irish are trending up.