ND Cross Country
Youthful squads experience season of development
Meagan Bens | Friday, May 18, 2018
On both the men’s and women’s side, the Irish have had a year of growth as underclassmen stepped up to fill the voids on the roster.
Associate head coach Matt Sparks said the loss of junior Anna Rohrer to injury shifted the entire dynamic for the women. The men’s team also found its future leader in freshman Yared Nuguse, who it will look to pave a promising path for fellow underclassmen next season. In his debut season, Nuguse led the Irish to a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes regional, as he finished 19th individually.
“[For] two years Anna’s been the leader,” Sparks said. “She’s a two time All-American in cross country. With her injury that kept her out until the fall, it’s like losing your starting quarterback. We kind of had to piece everything together midway through the season once we determined she wasn’t going to make it back. It was a bit of a disappointment but it was a growing experience. We had a young team, we returned six of our top seven. So [the] six had to step up and be bigger leaders as a result of our starting quarterback having to sit down. Everyone had to got better as a result. This season was a bit challenging because we were missing her, our major leader.”
While the women were called to step up after Rohrer’s injury, the underclassmen on the men’s side also had to contribute to the team’s development.
“The men’s team had a growing experience as well, they are very young,” Sparks said. “Lots of things happened and we found our leader for future years. Nuguse stepped up and was an All-Region performer in cross country. We had a great recruiting class. … They had to take their lumps but they learned from them and as a result this track season has been more productive. We’re in season all school year, same kids running cross are running track now. [They’ve] grown a lot because of the experience they had throughout the fall.”
Even though the women’s side had the challenge of reconfiguring the team around the loss of their star runner, Sparks said underclassmen, as well as senior Kaitlin Frei, made an impact.
“One of the things we are really proud of is … Kaitlin Frei on the women side,” Sparks said. “She was a walk-on kid for three years, had to struggle just to make the roster. When looking for people to step up and make contributions with losing [Rohrer], losing our No. 3 as well, [graduate student] Lexi Pelletier, to injury, Kaitlin did.”
The men received similar contributions from a walk-on who displayed leadership when the team needed it most.
“Kevin Pulliam, the men’s captain, was great this year,” Sparks said. “He was charged with trying to mold a bunch of sophomores along with compete at a higher level himself. He did an admirable job of nurturing, but also pushing the men to compete at a higher level they needed to as freshman. I’m proud of both walk-ons, Pulliam and Frei.”
Even though the team was asked to readjust this year, Sparks said the women’s team winning the National Catholic Invitational at home again, and the men’s team finishing well at the ACC championship, providing more confidence for the outdoor track season.
Even though the underclassmen had more responsibilities than usual, Sparks said they handled the challenge well.
“Usually they don’t step up as much because they are not called upon to make those contributions,” he said. “I think they handled the responsibilities well, Nuguse coming in and leading the freshmen, and Annasophia Keller was also another freshmen that ran in our top three most of the year. They were assertive and confident, where often it takes a year for that growth to happen.”
Reflecting on the development this year, Sparks said he is excited to get the team back with the recovered runners, developed underclassmen, and incoming class.
“I’m just excited to get everyone back and healthy,” Sparks said. “The women’s side is excited and we’ve found two of the top ladies in the country to fill in the few at graduation. Same thing on the men’s side, returning six of the top seven along with one of the top recruiting classes as well. The youth have had a year of growth behind them and we’re also bringing in freshman that can contribute right away on both sides.”