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Sports

Cross country looks to solidify spot at Great Lakes Regional

| Friday, November 15, 2019

Both cross country teams will compete in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional this Friday in Madison, Wisconsin. The stakes will be high when the gun goes off, as both teams try to build confidence and qualify for the national meet. The top two teams in the regional will qualify automatically for the national meet, but because of the strength of the region, it is likely that three other teams in the men’s and women’s race will receive at-large berths as well. These at-large berths are determined by a formula that considers wins over teams already in the national meet.

The goal for the women’s team is to compete for the second or third position and make a strong case for an at-large bid if they are unable to place in the top two. The 16th ranked Irish will have their work cut out for them, however, as they will be facing top teams in No. 6 ranked Michigan State, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 11 Michigan and No. 20 Ohio State. 

Head women’s coach Matt Sparks is confident that his team can compete with some of these top teams if the fourth and fifth runners can step up.

Grace Aubry | The Observer

Irish junior Olivia Niziolek strides towards the finish line during Notre Dame’s victory at the National Catholic Invitational at Burke Golf Course on Sept. 20.

“The big emphasis is closing the gap between our fourth and fifth runner, and if those two can be where we need them we feel that we can run with any of the top three in our region,” Sparks said.

Sparks talked about the importance of the fourth through seventh runners working together during the race.

“I think it’s going to be a combination of all them working together. That’s the nice thing about our sport. There is a confidence and comfortable feeling you get when you find your teammate on the course and you work together with them throughout the race,” Sparks said. “If they find each other, work together and push each other throughout the early and middle part of the race, then two of them will find themselves finishing in that top 35, which is where we imagine them to be.”

Despite the small concern about finding a fourth and fifth runner, Sparks is very confident in his top three runners in graduate student Anna Roher, and sophomores Maddy Denner and Jackie Gaughan. 

“Anna [Rohrer], Jackie [Gaughan] and Maddy [Denner] have been consistent all year. As a coach you go in very confident with what you are going to see them do,” Sparks said.

Sparks also talked about Denner’s racing style of going out conservatively and then passing lots of people between the first mile and the end of the race.

“She gets lost in the crowd in the first mile, and then the next time you see her come by she is 50 spots higher,” Sparks said. “It’s interesting because that racing style is usually someone who is ultra confident, which usually takes several years to develop that philosophy. She already has that in her first season. It is exciting to see what she is going to do over the years.”

The men’s side is in a similar spot as the women. After coming up a mere five points short of a conference title, the men will try to finish in the top five of the region and make a strong statement for an at-large bid to nationals. The 19th ranked men’s team will battle it out against No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 13 Indiana, No. 16 Michigan and No. 17 Purdue. 

Head coach Sean Carlson emphasized the importance of racing well Friday, while at the same time understanding that the national meet is only eight days after regionals. Up until this point in the season, all of the races have been 8Ks, but regionals and nationals will be 10Ks.

“We don’t want to run ourselves into the ground at regionals and then struggle to come back eight days later at nationals,” Carlson said. “Every other meet this year we have had two weeks in between, and now all of a sudden, we are running the first two 10Ks of the season at regionals and nationals eight days apart.”

Carlson talked about how teams are remembered for their performances at the national meet — not the regional meet.

“Sometimes there is some danger in trying to overdo it at regionals, and you overplay your wad eight days before you should have,” Carlson said. “Because at the end of the year, what are you gonna say? What place you were at the regional or national meet?”

Carlson is confident that his team will be ready for the 10K distance at regionals and nationals.

“Everything we do is strength based. Sometimes we pay for that early in the year when everybody is doing speed, but I think in these next two races, our guys are going to thrive. A lot of what we do in training and what we talk about and prepare for is for the 10K,” Carlson said.

Carlson talked about how he is very confident in his top four runners and how a fifth runner needs to step up. Carlson believes sophomore Danny Kilrea who was nearly redshirted last season might be primed to be the person the team needs.

“He struggled a little bit this year, but I think he will step up and that will be a big difference maker at the national meet,” Carlson said.

Kilrea placed 29th at the ACC Championship a couple of weeks ago, but last year he placed 33rd at the NCAA Championship. Carlson is hoping he can return to last year’s form.

“If he can take a step closer to where he was a year ago and be consistent that can help us at the regional meet and a lot at the national meet,” Carlson said.

The gun will sound to start the women’s race at 12:30 p.m. and the men are scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m., both races can be live streamed via FloTrack.

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