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ND Cross Country

Men’s team makes leap as ND squads notch top-15 finishes

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Cross-country at Notre Dame has raised the bar. The men’s team had gone several years without qualifying for the national meet but this past season finished in the national top 15. Add in their ACC meet title, and the men’s side has seen a resurgence. On the women’s side, the team finished eighth in the national championships after failing to qualify last year with star runner senior Anna Rohrer injured. Furthermore, they were just a point away from winning the ACC meet.

Assistant coach Sean Carlson — who coaches the men’s side — said his team exceeded expectations this past season in conference and national play.

“Coming into the conference meet, we were ranked fourth in preseason coaches’ poll,” Carlson said. “And then going into the national meet in preseason we weren’t even ranked. And we were 14th [in the national meet] and we won [conference].”

Carlson attributed the rise in success of the men’s team to the years of work that the coaching staff has put into expanding the program.

“This past fall was the result of a couple of years of accumulation,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming, slowly building the program and growing the program. The guys that have bought into the program are getting older now, and they’ve had a little bit more time to develop in our system, and I think that was a big part of winning the conference meet this past year.”

Connery McFadden | The Observer

Irish sophomore Yared Nuguse runs down the final straightaway during Notre Dame’s National Catholic Invitational on Sept. 14 at Burke Golf Course.

Head coach Matt Sparks named freshman Danny Kilrea and sophomore Yared Nuguse as two big reasons for the team’s success.

“They arrived at the national meet by Danny Kilrea,” Sparks said. “And they had a strong one-two punch with Yared Nuguse — who was our top runner of the conference meet — but they kind of pushed them into the winner’s circle with Yared rising up at the conference meet. But Danny rose up at the national meet to earn All-American status as a true freshman.”

The men will retain nine of their top 10 runners next year, ensuring there will be plenty of potential for sustained success.

The women’s side got Rohrer back this year and was able to meet its goals for the year. Sparks praised the performance of graduate student Jessica Harris, as well as Rohrer, for their top-10 finish in the national meet.

“The women’s team culminated with their eighth place in the NCAA Championship,” Sparks said. “One of the goals coming into the year was finishing top-10 at the national meet. Mission accomplished. Anna Rohrer was going to be a mainstay for us up front. But the big performance that carried that eighth-place finish was Jessica Harris. She stepped up when we needed it the most in the national meet to help us get over the top.”

Rohrer — who will run next year for her fourth year of eligibility — missed the entire 2017 season after the coaching staff decided to let her have as much time as possible to recover from injury. Sparks noted how important Rohrer is to the team.

“During Anna’s time here, her first year we finished eighth in the country, her second year we finished 11th, the year she didn’t run we didn’t qualify [for nationals] and then for her third year of eligibility, we’re back at eighth again,” he said. “You can see the impact she makes on the team. When she’s running, we’re a consistent top-15 team in the country. When she’s not, we struggle to qualify for the meet.”

Despite losing to NC State at ACC’s by one point, the women’s team beat the Wolfpack at the national meet two weeks later.

Unlike the men’s team, the women’s side will have some rebuilding to do next season, as graduate students Harris and Sydney Foreman and senior Rachel DaDamio will also be ineligible for more running, leaving the team without three veterans and with a tough task ahead as they try to stay in the top 10. On the bright side, Rohrer and Jacqueline Gaughan — one of the top freshmen in the nation last year — will return to lead the team.

There’s excitement within the cross-country program after this season, and expectations will be higher next year for a program that seems to be improving every year.

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