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ND Cross Country

Everett: Irish cross country steeped in tradition, history

| Tuesday, September 4, 2018

When the phrase “Notre Dame athletics” is uttered, the Irish cross country program does not often come to mind immediately. Instead, images of Notre Dame football and all its legendary moments dominate the conversation. If not football, then men’s basketball and hockey, as well as other programs that have experienced their share of the national spotlight due to continued success, such as women’s basketball and fencing, come up. The Irish cross country program, however, has played a major role in the history of collegiate running and deserves its share of attention for their consistent success and contribution to the sport.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish sophomore distance runner Yared Nuguse looks to pass an opponent down the final straightaway during the Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 29 at Burke Golf Course.

In the 1920s, in the early days of the sport, when most colleges did not have any sort of official cross country program in place, Notre Dame was one of the first universities to begin an official varsity cross country team. The book “The Complete History of Cross-Country Running” by Andrew Hutchinson details how in 1926 Notre Dame worked alongside the athletic directors and track coaches of Michigan State (a cross country powerhouse at the time) and Marquette in order to establish Central Collegiate Conference. The man who represented Notre Dame in this group and who worked to create and implement the conference was none other than Irish legend Knute Rockne, who at the time had already become nationally recognized for his work with the football team. A major component of this running conference was the creation of the Central Collegiate Conference Cross Country Championship. A decade later, this championship transformed into what is now known as the NCAA Cross Country Championship.

In 1938, the first NCAA championship took place at Michigan State. Notre Dame attended alongside a dozen other schools and raced well in what was a four-mile race, coming in second overall behind Indiana University. However, Notre Dame’s Greg Rice came in first overall with a time of 20:12, becoming the first individual to win the NCAA Cross Country Championship. Four years later, in 1942, Irish runner Oliver Hunter also took home the individual championship, recording a time of 20:18.

In 1957, the Notre Dame team overcame wintry conditions and won the national championship, narrowly beating the mighty Michigan State by six points.

Next Friday, Sept. 14, Notre Dame will host the National Catholic Invitational at the Burke Golf Course. The Invite is one of the oldest invitationals in the country and is the largest collegiate invite in the nation, attracting around 60 college teams every year. The Invitational was established in 1956 by Notre Dame head coach Alex Wilson and each year features the top talent in the country and high-level competition.

The Notre Dame cross country program has left an indelible mark on both Notre Dame and collegiate cross country history, and remains an important piece of the college cross country landscape today. I recommend everyone to go out to Burke Golf Course next Friday to support the Irish as they begin their season and look to continue on their legacy of excellence.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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