ND Cross Country
Irish head into ACC championships with high hopes
Joe Everett | Friday, October 27, 2017
Notre Dame will compete in the ACC championships for the fifth time in program history this Friday, although the men’s and women’s teams are competing under much different circumstances than last year.
For the men’s team, the return of senior co-captain Kevin Pulliam from injury, in addition to the infusion of talented freshman and graduate student runners alike, have all contributed to a notably improved Irish squad, one year removed from season chock-full of growing pains, frustration and a 10th place finish at the ACC championships. Irish assistant coach Sean Carlson talked about the current progression of the men’s team, their strengths and how they can be successful at ACCs this year.
“At Pre-Nationals, we ended up running as a group well — we had a 20 second [gap between our first and fifth runners] — we did a good job of running as a team,” Carlson said. “One of the big keys will be to keep a really tight split between our 1-5 and 1-7. We’re a team right now that doesn’t have any low sticks — guys that are scoring really low at meets — but we have a really solid pack of guys … so I think our team looks pretty good.
“Last year we finished tenth [at ACCs], and we’re significantly better last year, so it’d be cool to see a really bit improvement from the men’s team, and to see [a bit of the potential for next year].”
The men’s squad will also enjoy the luxury of being familiar with the course, as the ACC championships are being hosted this year by the University of Louisville at the E.P. Tom Sawyer Park — the exact same course the Irish competed on two weeks ago at Pre-Nationals. That day, the men’s team finished second out of ACC schools and 15th overall, and so Carlson believes the team will enter the race with a great deal of confidence.
“I think it’ll actually have a bigger impact than a lot of people expect,” Carlson said. “Not a lot of ACC schools were here at Pre-Nationals, so I think we have a bit of an advantage there. We definitely ran really well two weeks ago on this course, and gained a lot of confidence on a course for the first time all season, so we have a good feeling about this course and we’re really excited to come back here and run. We’ll see what we are — that’s kind of the theme for the team right now — we’re trying to get to another level, and we’re a good team, so we’ll see what happens on race day.”
On the other side, the women’s squad finds themselves in a much more precarious position than last year, as the Irish will compete without two of their top three finishers from last year: now-graduated Danielle Aragon and junior Anna Rohrer. However, thanks to talented youth such as freshman Anna Sophia Keller as well as the potential for star junior Annie Heffernan to win another individual championship for the Irish, associate head coach Matt Sparks believes Notre Dame has a real shot at securing a consecutive second-place finish at the ACC championships.
“NC State is one of the top programs in the country, so they’re going to be tough to beat for that first spot,” Sparks said. “If you score it out a little bit, it looks very competitive between second and seventh place, and anybody in that mix can come out on the front end of that second place finish. If we run similar to how we’ve been running the last couple weeks and have one more persons step up … we’ll be walking off the course with a smile on our face].
“One person that’s critical is [senior] Jess Harris — who’s had great success on the track — we just need her to come to and do the same thing on the cross country course. Individually, one thing we’re excited about is Annie Heffernan. We’ve won this meet individually the past two years … and Annie should be right in the thick of things — she can run with anybody in the race.”
Regardless of past postseason experience, both squads will find out what they are made of come Friday morning at the E.P. Tom Sawyer Park course. The men’s championship race will start off at 10:03 a.m. and the women’s at 11:03 a.m.