Track and Field
Irish men’s DMR set to compete for national championship
Joe Everett | Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Friday night in Birmingham, Ala., the Irish men’s distance medley relay (DMR) team is going for gold.
The lone athletes from Notre Dame to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships this year, freshman Dylan Jacobs (1200m), senior Edward Cheatham (400m), sophomore Samuel Voelz (800m) and sophomore Yared Nuguse (1600m) comprise the Irish DMR team that will compete against a stacked field in the nightcap of Friday’s event schedule.
Last year, the Notre Dame DMR team (which included Cheatham and Nuguse) placed second at the NCAA Championships with a time of 9:31.22. This season, the Irish men have been labeled as the team to beat, holding the top time of all qualifying teams this season after finishing in 9:26.10 at the Alex Wilson Invitational in February — a program record and the second-fastest time in NCAA history. Despite the potential for a record-breaking performance, Irish head coach Matt Sparks said he knows the four individuals now have a target on their back. Facing the best competition in the country on a packed track, Notre Dame will have to be at its best if it wants to earn a national championship.
“There’s a little bit of pressure on the group … basically the entire field is separated by two seconds,” Sparks said. “So things get much more strategic, as far as when you make your moves. Can you make clean handoffs? There are 12 teams on a 200-meter track, which gets crowded. There’s a lot of margin for error there, so we’ve talked a lot over the last week-and-a-half about running the cleanest race you can — staying out of traffic and having no issues passing the baton.”
However, from a physical and mental standpoint, Sparks said he is confident in his team’s preparation as they get ready to take the trip down to Alabama.
“As far as a physical training component, there’s not much left to do. It comes down to those intricacies,” Sparks said. “Coach Carlson did a great job last year getting those guys ready, and Coach Pate — our new sprints coach — [has done a great job]. One of our weak spots last year was the 400-meter leg, and we’re still running the same guy, Ed Cheatham, but he’s a second-and-a-half faster than he was last year. Everybody’s a little quicker than they were last year for the most part, so I feel like we’re in a good place. It’s just making sure they have an understanding of all the different scenarios that might play out once each of them gets the baton.”
While the combined success of the men’s DMR is noteworthy in and of itself, it is the unique stories of the four individuals that comprise the team that makes this opportunity such a special one for Sparks, who highlighted each athlete’s journey.
“[Cheatham] is a kid who walked through the door his freshman year and asked [former head coach Alan Turner] if he could be on the team,” Sparks said. “His times weren’t good enough to make the team, but Coach Turner said to come and help out at practice. For 12 months, Ed Cheatham was as solid a manager as Notre Dame track and field has had in a long time. At the end of that year, he went back to Coach Turner and asked, ‘Can I be on the team?’ We had graduated a few guys, so [Turner] gave him a tryout and he made it through that process. Last year Ed Cheatham was on the NCAA runner-up team in the DMR, and this year he’s potentially a national champion.”
Sparks said Nuguse also overcame expectations to succeed.
“Yared Nuguse wasn’t a highly recruited high school prospect,” Sparks said. “He wasn’t an A-level prospect, but now he’s one of the best milers in the country. Parents came to the US from Ethiopia to give their family a better life, so that’s a really neat story there.”
Voelz also faced an uphill battle to make it to Notre Dame, Sparks said.
“Sam Voelz, our 800-meter leg, is a transfer from DePaul and a Division III kid,” Sparks said. “Grew up just a Notre Dame fan but didn’t get in out of high school, still dreamed of Notre Dame and [transferred this season] after sitting out indoor track last year just so that he could save his eligibility for Notre Dame.”
While Sparks said Jacobs faced a different path than the others, his talent at such a young age is impressive.
“On the other side of that is Dylan Jacobs, who won the Foot Locker national championship in high school,” Sparks said. “He’s our leadoff leg. Youngest guy on the team as a true freshman, but he’s got a lot of big-meet experience … The whole relay’s a cool story … it’s a very unique group of guys.”
This weekend, Jacobs, Cheatham, Voelz and Nuguse aim to become champions together. The men’s DMR is scheduled to take place Friday at 9:02 pm EST inside the Birmingham CrossPlex.