Track and Field
Irish host final home meet of the season
Joe Everett | Thursday, February 14, 2019
After splitting up and hitting the road to compete in three different meets last weekend, Notre Dame will host its fourth and final home meet of the season: the Alex Wilson Invitational.
The one-day, 15-event Invitational will take place this Saturday inside Loftus Sports Center. While the Alex Wilson Invitational is generally viewed as a warm-up meet for both the upcoming ACC and NCAA championships, Irish head coach Matt Sparks explained that while many individuals won’t compete this weekend, the meet still holds a special importance for those still seeking to qualify for the indoor track postseason.
“This is just our last-chance tune-up for the ACC championships,” Sparks said. “We’ll be resting quite a few athletes — they won’t be competing here at home this weekend — but it’s a chance for a few athletes to get a qualifying mark to advance onto the ACC championships, and it’s the chance for some of our higher-end kids to get an NCAA qualifying mark.”
Sparks further explained that, as opposed to Notre Dame’s Meyo Invitational, the Alex Wilson Invitational attracts more quality than quantity in terms of the athletes that will compete.
“Traditionally when we host a meet, it becomes a big event for our program,” Sparks said. “Meyo is our big volume meet where we have over 1,000 athletes. This meet will only have up to 300-400 athletes, but half of those are trying to hit a national qualifying spot, so we’re going to have the 800-meter run, then the distance-medley relay and then the mile, as well, should be pretty competitive on a national scale.”
The Irish have found particular success in the distance-medley relay (DMR) in seasons past, and Sparks believes that the event may continue to hold premier significance at the Alex Wilson Invitational this year, with both Irish teams looking to run a good enough time Saturday to qualify for the postseason.
“The spotlight event for this meet for the last four to five years has been the distance-medley relay,” Sparks said. “Traditionally there are five to six teams qualifying, per gender, to the national championship meet in the DMR. A similar spotlight will be on that event this year, with both our men’s and women’s teams. For the men, this’ll be their first chance to get together for the DMR since they were state runner-up a year ago. Hoping to make another push for them to obviously qualify, but also to set themselves up for a conference and national finish. The women have been at nationals for the DMR for six-straight years, so we hope to get another qualifier this week or next week for the women — top 12 get into the national meet based on time — so this is a big meet for that qualifying process.”
Formally an assistant coach with the distance team, this season is Sparks’ first as the Hatherly-Piane head coach. Also the head coach of the cross country program, Sparks believes the distance team is on positive trajectory based on its skyrocketing confidence and overall goals — a change that started in the fall and has continued into the spring, especially among the youth.
“I think the big thing for both teams, starting in the fall, was a change in culture, and with that changing culture came a bigger vision for what they can achieve,” Sparks said. “That’s something more on the men’s side than the women’s side, and it started during cross country season, just getting on board with what the belief was and carrying it over to track. You see a lot of it at the ground level with the freshman kids and sophomore kids that are really stepping up — and we knew the juniors and seniors had it in them — but the newfound confidence is evident in the younger distance runners.”
However, it won’t be just the distance team that will compete at the Alex Wilson Invitational, as several sprint events will see Irish athletes competing. Sparks said that even though every individual won’t qualify for the postseason, each opportunity to compete is an important measurement for overall growth and improvement.
“There’s not necessarily a national experience for the team,” Sparks said. “There are a few young sprinters that are trying to earn a trip to move on to the conference meet. They’re gaining experience and seeing how much they’ve improved from earlier in the year.”
The Alex Wilson Invitational will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday inside Loftus Sports Center.