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Track and Field

Irish set to compete at Iowa State and Vanderbilt

| Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Fresh off of the Meyo Invitational, Notre Dame’s track team will be back in action this weekend as they split up to head west to Ames, Iowa for the Iowa State Classic and south to Nashville, Tennessee for the Music City Invitational. Head coach Matt Sparks broke down how the team would be split between the two meets.

“The men’s 5K runners are going to Iowa State — like Danny Kilrea, Andrew Alexander, Kevin Salvano,” Sparks said. “There will be six men going out there just to run 5Ks. The rest of the team will be headed to Vanderbilt.”

While at Iowa State, the Irish will face teams from schools representing different conferences including the Big Ten, the Big 12 and some other ACC teams. At Vanderbilt, there will be a different mix of schools including some SEC teams and some Tennessee teams. Regardless of what state they are in, Sparks has one goal for the whole team.

“A lot of ACC qualifiers, you have to hit a qualifier to compete at the ACC championship, and so we would hope to hit those standards across the board, really, in every event,” Sparks said. “And these are our last two weeks before the ACC meet. Whether at Vanderbilt or Iowa State, we’re trying to improve upon the marks to solidify our positions as we get ready for the ACC meet. … Both meets will have everything we’re looking for in terms of hitting those marks.”

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Notre Dame junior Yared Nuguse sprints around a turn at the Meyo Invitational held at Loftus Sports Center on February 8

With the success of this weekend in the women’s hurdles, where Summer Thorpe and Naya Sharp took first and second, respectively — matching and beating personal records — Sparks said he looked forward to both this weekend and meets down the road.

“Summer and Naya set themselves up to compete in the championships in a few weeks, and I mean, that’s the heart of coaching right there,” he said. “We just make sure [the athletes] are ready at the right time.”

He also specifically addressed Rachel Tanczos and the hope the team had that she would bounce back from a not-so-perfect weekend, knowing her ability to do so would be both his responsibility and hers.

“We all hope Rachel, who had her big throw at Michigan, has another big throw at the national meet,” he explained. “So we hope to see she bounces back from that struggle. I think there was a lot of good competition at our meet this past weekend, and she was at home. And she had a big throw the week before, so I think sometimes in athletics and just in general that, when you try too hard, things backfire on you. Now, I think she learned from that experience to just relax and be yourself and good things will happen.”

How do they expect her to bounce back from it? And how can the coaches hone the confidence that Thorpe and Sharp are riding so that it translates into future meets? It stems from strong communication and open paths for such communication to occur, Sparks said.

“Part of [successful coaching] is getting to know the athletes,” he said. “Our staff’s all been in place here going on our second year. At this point, we all know our athletes well and how best to stack their training, so they are most efficient, most ready on the right day.”

Sparks said it is more than just times in practice and how the athletes are feeling while they run.

“A lot of [success] is that coach-athlete relationship and communicating with each other well to know that you’re feeling right or you’re not feeling right, tweaks that you can do in training to make sure you’re ready when it matters most,” Sparks said. “That’s why we have some athletes sit out certain weekends — so that they can make sure they are most ready for when it matters most.”

Building that relationship doesn’t come without challenges, though, especially keeping conversation open as the championship portion of the season creeps closer.

“The challenge is that the athletes start to feel a little pressure as you get closer and closer to those, so our jobs as coaches is to remind them that, ‘Hey, you don’t have to reinvent yourself to get the championship time, just do all the same things we’ve been practicing the last six weeks. Do what you did to qualify to get here and you’ll be fine,’” he said. “Because a lot of athletes that try to make it to championship time try to reinvent themselves and do things they haven’t done. They think they need to do something extra-special, when in reality if you just come out and do what you did to qualify then you’ll be in a good place.”

With this advice planned out and a specific goal to earn the qualifying times they haven’t yet, the Irish head into both away meets this weekend with a clear plan to take on Ames and Nashville.

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