Track and Field
Irish men’s DMR wins national championship
Joe Everett | Tuesday, March 19, 2019
In the final event of the night at the NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships on March 8 in Birmingham, Ala., the Notre Dame men’s distance medley relay (DMR) team stole the show by rallying to win the race, earning itself a place in Irish track and field lore.
The title-winning team — comprised of freshman Dylan Jacobs, senior Edward Cheatham and sophomores Samuel Voelz and Yared Nuguse — recorded a final time of 9:31.55 to edge out Stanford and claim Notre Dame’s second DMR national title and fourth-ever NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship.
“I’m incredibly proud of these guys for buying in to each other, our program and Notre Dame,” assistant coach Sean Carlson said in a press release from the same day. “These guys represent everything about the culture of our program and what we have been building here.”
Irish head coach Matt Sparks credited Carlson for helping all four members of the team consistently buy into the vision he was setting fourth — they could actually win gold at nationals, especially after last year’s team finished just one second away from accomplishing that mission.
“Last year we surprised a lot of people when we got second … and this year we still felt like we were the underdogs a little bit,” Sparks said. “But this has been a vision and a conversation that Coach Carlson has had with those guys since a year ago at this time. We lost two of the four, and really Yared was the big mainstay piece that we had, but the locker room talk has always been the same — that we need to give ourselves a chance to win that thing.”
The Irish entered the competition as the top seed, having recorded the second-best time in NCAA history earlier this season at the Alex Wilson Invitational — crossing the line in 9:26.10 after Nuguse closed the relay with a 3:56 mile, tracking down and passing Wisconsin’s Oliver Hoare on the straightaway to earn Notre Dame the victory. Friday, inside the Birmingham Crossplex, the Irish would require a similar effort from their star sophomore.
Jacobs led off for Notre Dame in the 1,200-meter leg, recording a 2:57.48 split to keep the Irish firmly in the mix. The freshman handed the baton off to Cheatham, who kept the Irish in the pack by running the 400-meter leg in 48.17. With the 12-team field still tightly bunched, Voelz took over and ran his 800-meter leg in 1:49.89 to put the Irish in sixth place at the final baton exchange.
From there, it was all up to Nuguse.
The sophomore started his 1,600-meter leg over seven seconds behind the leader, Dan Curts of Iowa State, but slowly began to make up ground. By the halfway point of the leg, Nuguse had fully caught up to Curts by running a 1:55.7 800-meter split. The two ran with each other for the next 400 meters before Nuguse surged ahead at the start of the final 400 meters.
With two laps to go, the race turned into a battle between Notre Dame and Stanford.
Stanford senior Grant Fisher — a nine-time All-American and 2017 NCAA champion in the 5,000 meters — started his leg in 10th place and had surged with the Irish sophomore to climb back into the race. Heading into the final lap, Fisher passed Nuguse and took over first place. He held that lead into the final straightaway, but Nuguse surged ahead in the final 15 meters to cross the finish line first with a mile time of 3:56.03 — winning the men’s distance medley relay for Notre Dame in dramatic fashion.
“It couldn’t have been any more exciting,” Sparks said. “Grant Fisher is probably the most respected distance runner in college right now … so it was really a fun race to watch from that perspective.”
Nuguse was instantly greeted by his teammates and Carlson, who gathered in a circle to congratulate one another and soak in what they had just accomplished. Post-race, Nuguse said he couldn’t have done what he did without his teammates.
“When I’m doing it for my team out there, I give it all that I have, and it paid off tonight,” he said.
For Sparks, the best part was that the “team” Nuguse referred to didn’t simply mean the three other individuals on the relay. Rather, it signified how much support the DMR individuals had from their teammates who made the journey to Birmingham, and ultimately how the event brought the entire Notre Dame track and field program together.
“We had about 30 to 35 student-athletes come down to watch the race, and we were about the loudest people in the whole building,” Sparks said. “It was just icing on the cake, having them there to celebrate with their teammates, and it put it over the top as far as one of the most memorable experiences a student-athlete can have.”