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ND Cross Country

Cross country set to make run at ACC Title

| Friday, November 1, 2019

The postseason begins for the men’s and women’s cross country teams this Friday as both teams head to Virginia Tech to compete for an ACC Championship. Both teams have had success at this highly competitive meet in recent years and will look to replicate that success Friday.

On the women’s side, the No. 17 ranked Irish will go head to head with top teams such as North Carolina State (sixth), Florida State (10th), Virginia Tech (22nd) and Boston College (27th).

Observer File Photo

Irish junior Maddy VanBlunk strides towards the finish line during the National Catholic Invite at Burke Golf Course on Sept. 20.

Head women’s coach Matt Sparks is confident his team can compete with the very best of the ACC. 

“Fall break fell at a really good time. It was nice for our athletes to take a break from school life for a couple of days. A big piece of our existence is how well recovered we are from workouts and previous competitions,” Sparks said. “That seven days of freedom allowed everybody to catch up on sleep and studying. Heading into the conference meet, everyone is ready to go. We had a great practice last week and we feel like everything is trending in the right direction.”

Sparks is very confident about his top three runners: graduate student Anna Roher and sophomore classmates Jackie Gaughan and Maddy Denner. Sparks hopes that all three of these runners can be in the top 10. Rohrer is the clear front runner for the Irish and has proved to be a great mentor to Gaughan and Denner.

“In practice, it is the three of them right there together with Anna leading everything being the veteran that she is,” Sparks said. “She is a leader on and off the course, and those two are great at following her lead.”

Sparks also expressed his confidence in Gaughan’s health. Gaughan, who has had a few setbacks due to injures, did very well in the Wisconsin meet two weeks ago.

“Jackie Gaughan had struggled early in the year with anemia and some foot issues, but she has overcome those, and we expect her to be right there with [Roher and Denner] come conference,” Sparks stated.

Three runners cannot win the meet, however, and the Irish will need a fourth and fifth runner to step up if they are going to compete with the top teams in the conference. Sparks is confident that multiple runners are up for the challenge.

“We believe we have five athletes to step into those roles,” Sparks said. “We think they need to be in the top 30 if we are going to contend with Florida State and NC State.”

The good news for the Irish is that the conference meet allows 10 runners to compete instead of the usual seven runners. This added depth should prove beneficial to Sparks’ team, as he hopes his 4 through 8 runners can pack up during the race.

“The hope is to put four or five [runners] together,” he said. “Try to find 30th place, work together as long as they can, and then whoever feels good, make a move to try to break into that top 25.”

The men’s side looks to be especially competitive with the No. 20 ranked Irish facing off against Florida State (21st), North Carolina State (T-23rd), Virginia (T-23rd), Virginia Tech (26th) and Syracuse (28th).

Head men’s coach Sean Carlson is excited his team will have a chance to prove themselves in the postseason.

“The first half of our season wasn’t everything that we wanted it to be. The good thing about our sport is that there are only three races that matter: conference, regionals and nationals,” Carlson said.

Carlson shared that the goal for the Irish is to win the conference title for the second year in a row. There will be a much larger pressure placed on the Irish this year, however. 

“The mood is a little bit different,” he said. “Last year we were coming in as more of an underdog, and now we are coming in with more of an expectation. So we will see how our guys adjust from being more of an underdog to being the favorite to win.” 

While the Irish have finished ahead of some other top ACC teams in previous meets this season, the ACC Championships will be a much smaller meet meaning that the margin of error will be much smaller. Despite some fairly large margin of victories over Syracuse and Virginia at the Wisconsin meet two weeks ago, Carlson recognizes that his team will have to step up their game.

“It is going to be a tough meet,” Carslon said. “I think it’s going to take five in the top 20 to win the conference meet.”

Based on some poor performances across the board at the Wisconsin meet, Carlson believes his team may have been overtraining slightly, but he believes this can be beneficial for the postseason stretch.

“Because we have trained so hard the first half of the season, I think that will pay off at nationals but the downside is we haven’t ran as well at some of these meets,” Carlson said.

Trusting the training process for peak performance at the national meet is part of what makes a mature runner.

“You can’t be as good as your last race because if you are only as good as your last race, it’s hard to be very good,” Carlson said.

Senior Kevin Salvano will be returning to the lineup, improving the chance of a back to back title for the Irish. While Carlson does not expect Salvano to be at his best until nationals, he believes that Salvano will make an immediate impact on the team and provide more depth to the team in the long run.

“The past 360 something days we have been the men’s ACC conference champs, and on Friday we get to either keep saying that or we don’t,” Carlson said. “We can either start creating a tradition here or have to start from scratch.”

The ACC Championship meet will begin with the men’s 8K race starting at 10 a.m. at Buford Meredith XC Course in Blacksburg, Virginia, and the women’s 6K race following at 11 a.m. Both races will be broadcast on the ACC Network on the WatchESPN app.

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