Irish cross country teams off to nationals after strong regional showing
Nate Moller | Wednesday, November 20, 2019
The men’s and women’s cross country squads both qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships thanks to their performances at the Great Lakes Regional this past Friday. The men’s team placed second, which handed them an automatic qualification, and the women placed fifth to receive an at-large bid to the meet.
The men’s side was very close to an overall victory, but Purdue ended up taking home the title with 79 points. Notre Dame was close behind with 85 points, followed by Michigan with 86 points, Indiana with 87, and Wisconsin with 96.
Irish head men’s coach Sean Carlson said he was very pleased with his team’s performance.
“We were definitely happy — we ran a much better team race,” Carlson said.
Everyone has come to understand their role on the team, Carlson mentioned.
“While it was a little late for that to happen, I am glad it happened,” Carlson said. “I think some teams don’t ever figure that out. I think our guys have figured out each one of our roles, and no one needs to do anything outside of their ability. If everyone runs to their ability and does what they are supposed to, I think we are going to be really happy with the result.”
Notable finishers for the Irish in the 10K race included sophomore Dylan Jacobs (30:20.5) who placed eighth, junior Yared Nuguse (10th, 30:28.9) and junior Andrew Alexander (15th, 30:44.1). The remaining four runners for the Irish were senior Kevin Salvano, sophomore Matthew Carmody, junior Brendan Fraser and sophomore Danny Kilrea who all finished within seven seconds of each other.
“Our guys packed it up and ran together a lot better than they had all year,” Carlson said. “We had the most depth of any time in the region. We had all seven runners in the top 30 and I don’t think any other team did that. Our seven was ahead of everyone else’s five runners except Purdue.”
Jacobs also had a standout performance, Carlson said.
“I think the thing that is most impressive is that this is [Jacobs’] first NCAA cross country season,” Carlson said. “To run with that confidence and poise is very impressive.”
Carlson believes his team’s performance at the regional meet is a recipe for success at the national meet, as it is very important to have no big gaps between runners.
“Every four seconds is like 10 places at nationals,” Carlson said. “If we can do a good job of running another good team race at nationals I think we can accomplish our goal of taking a big step forward and doing better than we did a year ago.”
Last year’s team placed 14th at the national meet. Carlson discussed the importance of having this previous experience in the national meet.
“A year ago, none of those guys had seen the national meet in cross country,” Carlson said. “That was all their first appearance there. Now they are going to be a little more confident going into it having been there last year.”
The women’s team finished in fifth place with 144 points behind fellow ranked opponents Michigan State (49 points), Michigan (74 points), Wisconsin (100 points) and Ohio State (134 points).
Irish head women’s coach Matt Sparks recognized the team’s performance was not perfect, but he was happy his team achieved its goal.
“We did what we needed to do,” Sparks said. “The goal was to go there and qualify. The goal was to place a bit higher, and we are still looking for that perfect race. At some point in the season, everyone has done well, but we just haven’t had our top five run well at the same time.”
Sparks hopes his team will be firing on all cylinders come Saturday.
“Our fourth and fifth runners stepped up on Friday but the runner who has been most consistent all year for us, [sophomore Maddy Denner], struggled,” Sparks said. “We see the pieces coming together. Now we just need to get everybody on the same page at the same time.”
Notable finishers in the 6K race included graduate student Anna Rohrer, who placed fifth in a time of 20:11.4, sophomore Jackie Gaughan (16th, 20:49.5), Denner (38th, 21:14.7), sophomore Jocelyn Long (42nd, 21:21.8) and senior Erin Archibeck (43rd, 21:23.3).
Sparks praised the performances of Long and Archibeck.
“[Long] has been somebody that has trained really well and just hasn’t raced up to her practice potential yet, but Friday was a big step for her,” Sparks said. “A lot of competition builds confidence and she raced with a lot of confidence on Friday. Same thing with Erin Archibeck, who was our fifth. If those two come out and assert themselves early, then they will continue to run well throughout the rest of the year.”
Denner will need to rebound from her off performance if the Irish are going to have a successful national meet. Sparks is confident in Denner’s ability to bounce back.
“We need to make sure she is well-rested,” Sparks said. “She has been consistent all year, and I think she was a little run-down for that race. We just need to make sure she has time to rest and recover, and she will be good to go on Saturday.”
The national meet must be treated like any other meet, Sparks asserted.
“Treat it like any other race you have competed in and you’ll do well,” Sparks said. “The worst thing you can try to do is reinvent yourself for the big race. Prepare the same way and have a strategy like you always do.”
Sparks also discussed the importance of closing the spread between the first five runners.
“We have had a 90-second 1-5 gap, and if we can keep that down to 70-75 with our front runner continuing to excel, then I think we can compete for a top-15 spot,” Sparks said.
The national meet will be the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Championship course in Terre Haute, Indiana — a course that will be very familiar to the Irish. The Irish ran on the course in last year’s Great Lakes Regional, and the course also hosts the Indiana State Cross Country Championships and the Midwest Nike Cross Country Regional — both of which have seen many Irish athletes.
“We will be a lot more familiar with that course than just about anybody out there on Saturday,” Sparks said.
Both coaches also expect a large cheering section for the Irish, which will ultimately serve to benefit the team.
“A lot of our team will watch and a lot of guys’ families will watch — it’s like we are on our home turf,” Carlson said.
Traveling on a bus will also likely reduce the pressure the team feels.
“There is a comfort level in getting on a bus and driving there instead of having to fly across the country,” Sparks said.
The gun will go off Saturday at 11:15 a.m. for the women’s race and 12:15 p.m. for the men’s race. Both will be live-streamed by Flotrack.