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Track and Field

Split squads find success over weekend, look to home invitational

| Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Members of Irish track were in different states over the weekend to compete in the Music City Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Iowa State Classic in Ames, Iowa.

Irish head coach Matt Sparks discussed successes of the weekend. 

In Nashville for the women’s weight throw, junior Rachel Tanczos came out swinging, literally, just as Sparks hoped she would, to set another personal record.

“On the track you have someone to race against, but in the ring or in pole vault or high jump you just have yourself, and she’s been so incredibly consistent over the last couple weeks that, it’s a lot of peace of mind for a coach — and an athlete but especially for a coach — to know that every time out she can hit that big throw,” Sparks said. “It makes you wonder if the next big throw is on its way. When you’re consistently at the same place you know there’s more to come and you just need the confidence growing week after week.”

Tanczos’s success bred across the team, starting with those in the same event as her.

“Success becomes infectious in groups,” Sparks said. “They saw Rachel’s go well, and then [senior] Logan [Kusky] comes out and throws well, and [senior] Abbey [Kapitan] has been really consistent also.”

Kusky ended up placing second overall. These members weren’t the only ones to thrive this weekend in Tennessee, however.

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Irish senior Naya Sharp runs in the 60m hurdles finals during the Meyo Invitational on Feb. 8 at Loftus Sports Center.

Senior Naya Sharp had another stellar weekend, earning herself first in the women’s hurdles.

“[Assistant] coach [Rodney] Zuyderwyk has been talking all season long about how she’s coming, watch out for her, she’s coming,” Sparks said. “She’s had an amazing start to her races, so the first 20 meters she does about as well as anybody in the field. She’s a bit of a smaller hurdler, so as soon as she perfects her technique, you’re going to see her times drop, and that’s what’s happening now. She’s fine-tuning some things as we get down to championship season and that’s what we’re all trying to do in all the events. She and Coach Zuyderwyk have pulled that all together at the right time, it looks like.”

Notre Dame’s women’s 800 meter runners and 5K runners did well also. Sparks noted they all had a breakthrough, especially junior Mikayla Schneider.

“Schneider ran a time that puts her in the top five in the conference,” Sparks said. “That was really a mental breakthrough for her. She had been at the 2:09-2:10 range for about 12 months now, but she’s run 2:06, but she’s struggled a little bit mentally and physically over the last year. She finally got a mark that puts her back in the top five in the conference, and she’s excited with what she’s able to do. … And in the Women’s 5K in Vanderbilt, our top three finishers are top 10 in school history in that event. So you know, if you see someone from your team running well up front, you want to jump on board and follow, and good things snowball.”

Sparks said it wasn’t only in Nashville that the Irish thrived. 

“If you transition to the men’s distance group, there were a lot of good things happening for them out in Iowa,” he said.

He spoke specifically of sophomore Matthew Carmody, who took first in the men’s 5K in Iowa.

“Matthew Carmody was a true walk-on 18 months ago — kid barely made the roster, and this is the first time he’s run a 5K on the track,” Sparks said. “Traditionally you start running in the 14 minutes and the second time you come out and you drop a lot of time, and so for him to come out and compete at that level from the first time out — we’re rarely very surprised when things happen, and we knew he was running well but we just didn’t know he was running that well. It was in his hometown, too, he’s from Des Moines, Iowa. He lives right up the road, so he had a good cheering section, and this is a kid who’s totally invested in the process, so it’s time for everybody to see him have success.”

Iowa was not wholly a success story. Sparks said he would have liked to see sophomore Danny Kilrea place higher than he ultimately did.  

“That was one of the disappointments; Danny struggled,” Sparks said. “He was in the faster heat and it was a little over his head, it went out fast and he just couldn’t hold on to that, so he’s going to race again this weekend in the 5K to try to better his chance to get in the fast heat of the conference meet.”

That’s the plan going forward, Sparks asserted. He has the team focused on the ACC Championship, and the Alex Wilson Invitational is a stepping stone to that meet for some. 

“There are those that need to put it all out there this weekend so they can make it to the conference meet and compete at the next level, so this weekend’s meet is a bit of a last chance to advance,” Sparks said. “This could be the pinnacle of their season. If they don’t rise to the occasion this weekend their season’s over, and they’re getting ready for outdoor track. Those that are competing, they will be working on some fine-tuning things that [are] going to help them find a couple more inches in the weight throw or the pole vault.”

This weekend also provides the men’s distance medley relay with a chance to make the qualifying time they need.

“I’m excited to see those relays, especially on the men’s side,” Sparks said. “Every one of them has returned more fit than they’ve ever been. They need to just qualify, it’s like a prelim for them essentially to get ready for the national meet hopefully three or four weeks from now. They need to hit a time to get in but they don’t need to break any records along the way. They just need to make sure they qualify, get the baton around and make sure they are still healthy, fresh and ready to go a week later at the conference meet.”

The invitational this weekend will be the perfect atmosphere to hit that time, Sparks noted. 

“[Notre Dame] and Wisconsin went one and two at that meet last year, gaining the second and third all time fastest DMRs on that day,” he said. “Wisconsin will be back there again, and they’ve got one of the best milers in the country on that anchor leg, so it should be a very competitive field.” 

There will be some distance runners sitting out this weekend, however — especially those who have already qualified for the conference championship.

The Irish track team will use the Alex Wilson Invitational as a stepping stone to those championship meets. The invitational will kick off Saturday at Loftus Sports Center.

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