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ND Cross Country

Squad will face top teams at upcoming Joe Piane Invitational

| Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams may discover a lot about themselves Friday as some of the nation’s premier cross country teams in the nation battle it out at the Joe Piane Invitational. Although both teams have their eyes set on postseason goals, this meet figures to give a good reference point for both teams.

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Kelli Reagan strides towards the finish line during Notre Dames first place finish in the 2018 National Catholic Invitational.

The men’s team will be running their full roster with sophomore Danny Kilrea, juniors Yared Nuguse and Andrew Alexander and graduate student Tony Williams racing in their first competition this year. Head men’s cross country coach Sean Carlson said this race will be a good indicator of potential postseason success for these individuals and for the team as a whole.

“We didn’t necessarily circle this date, but it is a good reference point for us,” Carlson said. “Training into this has been pretty tough. We haven’t really backed down too much at all.”

Carlson hopes the team will be able to compete with some of the best in the country. No. 4 Colorado, No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 15 North Carolina State will all be stiff competition for the No. 9 Irish. 

“We see the top teams in the country, top teams in the region and top teams in our conference at this meet, so we get a lot of reference points as far as what we need to do over the next two months to improve,” Carlson said.

In order to compete with these teams, Carlson said the Irish will use a similar race strategy to the National Catholic Invite.

“We should have two packs of guys that find each other, run with each other and help each other out throughout that race,” Carlson said. “It will help us find out where runners are at and who they should be running with going into the championship season.”

Carlson said he is looking forward to watching National Catholic Invite winner, sophomore Dylan Jacobs.

“We will see how he fares under more pressure and in a more national spotlight, but we are going to be counting on him to be one of our key guys this year,” Carlson said.

On the women’s side, team captain and veteran runner Anna Rohrer will be making her season debut.

“Whenever we have her out there, we feel confident about what we are going to do,” Matt Sparks, head women’s cross country coach, said.

The women’s side also features some of the nation’s premier teams. Sparks said he hopes the Irish can compete with teams like No. 8 North Carolina State and No. 9 Wisconsin.

There are some injury concerns for the Irish like sophomore Jackie Gaughan — typically the number two runner for the Irish — whose participation is questionable for Friday’s race. A decision about her race status will be made in the coming days. 

“If Jackie is running and is her normal self, we are confident we can be competitive with those teams ranked between eight and 18,” Sparks said. “Without one of our top five, we are not quite ourselves, but we are shooting for the end of the season, so if we don’t have [Gaughan] Friday, we obviously want to have her at her best by the end of the year.”

Sparks said he is looking forward to seeing sophomore Maddy Denner compete in her first national-level cross country race. Denner won the Crusader Invitational and National Catholic Invite earlier this year.

“It will be a good chance for her to see if she can crack into that top 10 or 20. If she can do that, then she could potentially be an All American by the end of the year,” Sparks said.

Sparks said this meet is meaningful not only for the stellar competition but also because it honors the greatest Notre Dame cross country and track and field coach of all time — Joe Piane. 

“The kids know it’s a competitive meet already, but when they know it’s got a name on it and they are curious to learn more about him, it’s got a little more energy,” Sparks said.

Piane was the head men’s cross country and track and field coach for nearly 40 years, and he recently retired in 2014. His impact on the program was immense and is still present to this day.

“From facilities to the climate of competitive sporting events on campus, these are all things that [Piane] brought,” Sparks said. “The philosophy of the program that he established is still carried forward. The competitive fire that he had in him when he established the team in the 70s and 80s was carried over to the 2000s, and it is still living strong today.”

Piane had great success on the team level, including 11 top 10 NCAA men’s cross country finishes and third place finishes in 1990 and 2005. Piane is also a two-time national cross country coach of the year and mentor to 189 Notre Dame All Americans. Piane will be inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCA) in December. 

“It’s a fitting award. We have supported him in the process to be inducted. He had nothing to do with it himself; his accolades stood upon themselves. It’s a well deserved honor,” Sparks said.

Sparks said Piane is much more than just a good coach.

“He is about as personable as you can be and about as friendly and outgoing person that I’ve met during my time here,” Sparks said. “Seeing how he interacts with people on a daily basis and the way he cares about people and makes everybody feel a part of this program is something I’ve taken away from him and tried to develop and build on during my time here.”

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